Common law marriage is a rapidly disappearing concept in American family law. This is reflected in the fact that very few states throughout the country recognize common law marriage in their legal system. Texas is among the few states left in the union which still recognize this unique institution. In this post, we will discuss the basics of common law marriage here in Texas, highlight how this institution can be created, and point out the contexts in which this institution has the most significance.
Basics of Common Law Marriage
Common law marriage – commonly known as “marriage without formalities” or “informal marriage” in Texas law – describes a relationship which has the outward appearance of marriage without the formality of marriage. In other words, the couple doesn’t have a certificate of marriage signed and approved by the state. The couple has many of the external signs of being married, such as living together, sharing bank accounts, sharing expenses, filing joint tax returns, and so forth.
If a marriage is in fact a common law marriage and is recognized as such by the state, then the couple will have the same privileges and benefits as couples who are formally married. Hence, the determination of whether a common law marriage is valid is a highly important matter.
Proving Common Law Marriage with a Formal Declaration
There is an easy route to proving a common law marriage in Texas: file a Declaration and Registration of Informal Marriage form with the state. This declaration is essentially a sworn statement which indicates that both parties intend to be married and are actively holding themselves out to be married. Once this document is completed and recorded, the couple is considered married under the law of Texas.
Proving Common Law Marriage via External Factors
If a couple doesn’t file this form, common law marriage can still be proven, but the process is significantly more difficult. Without the form, a couple can prove common law marriage when they demonstrate 3 factors: (1) the couple has agreed to be married, (2) the couple currently shares a living space together in Texas, and (3) the couple has and currently is “holding themselves out” as a married couple publicly. This third factor is the most difficult one to demonstrate. And the reason for this is because this factor is somewhat subjective. Courts will examine your situation and look for a number of established signs which indicate that this factor is present. For instance, if the couple uses the same last name, introduces themselves as married in public, shares a bank account, shares living expenses, and so forth, these external things may support a determination of common law marriage. The bottom line is that each case requires an independent analysis, and so couples need to try and present as much evidence as possible.
Significance of Common Law Marriage: Divorce & Inheritance
Common law marriage has special significance in two areas: divorce and inheritance. If a couple wishes to divorce when they have a common law marriage, then they will need to go through the normal divorce process which applies to formal marriages. Couples cannot freely separate just because they have a common law marriage. If a couple wants to end a common law marriage, but hasn’t proved that marriage to the state when they seek a divorce, this will add a substantial hassle because they will first need to prove the existence of the common law marriage itself. Then, after the marriage is proven, the couple can begin developing agreements on other aspects of the divorce.
Common law marriage is also relevant when one spouse passes away. Common law marriage will affect the inheritance rights of the other spouse. Inheritance will not work the same way if the couple isn’t actually married.
Contact The Ramage Law Group for More Information
As you can see, common law marriage can quickly become complex. This is just a basic introduction to this topic. If you’d like to learn more, contact The Ramage Law Group today by calling 469-208-6980.