When someone says the word, “wedding,” most people think of a ceremony with cake, fancy clothes, “I do,” photos, and a herd of guests all dressed to the nines. Turns out, though, a ceremony isn’t actually required to make it official. Neither is a license. In fact, to get married in Texas, formalities of any kind aren’t required—not even a courthouse.
A marriage that doesn’t require formalities, bells, or whistles of any kind, is called a common law marriage—or rather, an “informal” marriage—and is a completely valid method of getting hitched in Texas. This can be a great way of making things official with your partner, without all the hassle of a traditional wedding.
Here’s what you need to know about common law marriage in Texas, and how a North Texas Family Lawyers attorney might be able to help you with yours.
Common Law Marriage in Texas
Known as an “informal marriage,” a common law marriage is a wedding that has no formal process, does not require a marriage license, and really on takes two consenting adults to make it happen. Which means, that as far as stress-free wedding planning goes, this one takes the cake. (See what we did there?)
According to the Texas Family Code, in order to make a common law marriage official, a couple should:
- Agree that they are married;
- Live together as a couple in the state afterward; and
- Tell other people they were married.
1. Agree to be Married
To satisfy element one of a common law marriage, both partners need to agree that they are married—not that they want to get married at some arbitrary, future date—but that from that point forward, they actually are married. Merely discussing the possibility of marriage isn’t enough to qualify, neither is being engaged, or having sex, even if you’re doing these things under the same roof.
While a common law marriage doesn’t require proof that the agreement was made, our attorneys are always happy to help draft a Declaration of Informal Marriage, for couples who want something official. Usually, however, proof is only important in a common law marriage when it comes to divorce or inheritance rights.
2. Live Together as a Couple in the State
After you have made the agreement that you are married, the next step is to live together as a couple in the state. Texas courts do not require a certain number of days to make this official, however, the convenience of that goes both ways. While you could, theoretically, get a common law marriage after only one day of living together, you could also live together for ten years and still not actually be married. The key, here, is that you first, agreed you were married, and second, lived together in the state.
Again, proving the date your marriage began usually isn’t a big deal, unless you’re thinking about a divorce. However, if the nuances of this date have become problematic for you, a family law attorney at North Texas Family Lawyers can help determine when your common law marriage might have begun.
3. Tell Other People You Are Married
After agreement and cohabitation, the final element to making a common law marriage official is to hold yourself out as being married. This can happen in a number of different ways, and doesn’t necessarily have to be you out on the sidewalk telling the neighbors about it. Couples can hold themselves out as being married by filing jointly for taxes, taking each other’s name, having joint insurance, buying a home together, or even by something as simple as signing your best friend’s wedding gift with “Mr. and Mrs.”
The point of this third element, is to ensure that there can be no “secret” common law marriage. To be effective, people other than the couple need to know about it.
Limitations to Common Law Marriage
In addition to the three qualifying elements, there are also limitations that must be satisfied. A union that meets all the other elements of a common law marriage might still be invalid, if the individuals are:
- Under eighteen;
- Related to each other; or,
- Already married to someone else.
While you and your spouse don’t have to live together with a certain number of days before your common law marriage is valid, Texas courts do require you to file a claim within a certain number of days of breaking up. Generally, if you move out and do not file for divorce within two years, Texas courts will assume that your informal marriage was not valid.
If you have recently broken up with your partner after a common law marriage, it’s important that you notify your North Texas Family Lawyers attorney as soon as possible, so that you don’t lose out on any important marital rights.
Texas is one of only a handful of states that recognizes common law marriage, however, since it is legal in Texas, other states are (technically) required to recognize yours. This doesn’t mean that moving to one of these states will be easy, though.
If you have a common law marriage, and are planning to move to a state that doesn’t recognize these unions, it’s a good idea to contact your family law attorney beforehand, to make sure you don’t run into any legal headaches in your new home.
Common Law Marriage and Divorce
Unfortunately, while the state allows couples to get married without going through a formal process, there is no such thing as a “common law divorce.” In order to end a common law marriage, couples must go through the same divorce process as traditionally married partners. Meaning, the rules of community property, fault vs. no-fault, child custody, and alimony are applied the same, however you were married.
Still, even though you can’t just click your heels three times and magically become divorced, there are many different ways to get divorced in Texas, some which are almost (if not quite) as convenient as a common law marriage. Mediation, uncontested divorce, and collaborative divorce, are just a few ways individuals can obtain a quick, inexpensive dissolution, while still maintaining control over their final divorce order.
Same Sex Couples and Common Law Marriage
In Texas, same sex marriage is legal, and the state recognizes the right of these individuals to marry the same as any other consenting partnership. Ergo, same sex couples who wish to make their union official through a common law marriage need only meet the same elements as any other couple.
Common Law Marriage Attorneys in Texas
Determining when a common law marriage began can be tricky, however, it may also be vitally important when it comes to both divorce and inheritance rights.
If you have more questions about common law marriage and how it might apply to your situation, call us at (972) 436-8000, or schedule a consultation online, and let our highly skilled family law attorneys help. In the end, the protections afforded to spouses in a common law marriage are the same as any other, and you shouldn’t be penalized for doing things differently.