Common Law Marriage Alive and Well in Texas

Have you lived with a partner for some time in what you believe is a committed relationship and wonder if that relationship qualifies as a common law marriage? Are you curious how things would be handled should you want to dissolve a common law marriage? What about property rights– do you risk losing a portion of your assets following a common law marriage divorce? If you live in Texas, our Dallas family law firm has the answers.

Fact 1: Common law marriage IS a thing in Texas.

While most states in the United States do not recognize common law marriage, Texas is one of several states that DOES. Common law marriage is referred to as informal marriage in the Texas Family Code.

Fact 2: Three requirements must be met to prove common law marriage in Texas.

If you’re thinking, “We’ve lived together for 10 years, so we’re automatically common law married,” keep reading. Every state has its own set of requirements for proving common law marriage, and in Texas, you must meet three. Both parties must:

  1. Agree to be married.
  2. Reside in the state of Texas.
  3. Represent themselves to others as husband and wife in Texas. 

You can also take steps to make your informal marriage “official” by filing a declaration and registration of informal marriage at your Texas county clerk’s office. If you have questions on how to make it “official” in Texas, reach out to a top family lawyer in Dallas or the county where you reside for advice.

Fact 3: Establishing the official date of a common law marriage can be tricky – and problematic.

You may believe that your marriage began the day you started living together, while your partner may cite the date you two agreed to be spouses as the official day. While this may not be a big deal if you plan to stay married, the best family law firms in Dallas know that the date of marriage will be important should you decide to divorce because … 

Fact 4: Texas community property laws apply to the dissolution of common law marriages.

Once you have proven common law – or informal – marriage in Texas, or made it official at the county clerk’s office, the same rules will apply to you that apply to a couple dissolving a traditional marriage. Since Texas is a community property state, any assets, retirement accounts and debts accumulated from the date of marriage until the date the divorce is finalized will be subject to division. 

Fact 5: Informal marriages don’t have a required timeline but DO have an expiration date in Texas.

There is no set period of time that a couple must be together in order to assert they are common law married in Texas. You could fall in love and enter into an informal marriage at any point in Texas, as long as you meet the three requirements noted above. However, if you and your partner don’t file a pleading with the court to establish informal marriage within two years of breaking up and living apart, Texas courts would typically find an informal marriage claim to be presumptively void.

Don’t leave the status of your marriage up in the air – especially if you want to protect assets during divorce

While you may be head over heels in love right now, your relationship may not last forever. If you’re concerned about protecting your assets, contact a reputable Dallas family lawyer for advice. 

For example, a cohabitation agreement signed by both parties could include a clause that disavows common law marriage (and community property claims) and provides a financial settlement to the non-monied party should you decide to split. He or she can also help you set the wheels in motion to declare and register your informal marriage and prepare a postmarital agreement.

Christine Powers Leatherberry is a compassionate family lawyer who is equally comfortable in the courtroom as she is counseling her clients one-on-one. To learn more about divorce and child custody in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call (214) 617-1583 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and considerate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

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