The laws of the individual states govern common law marriages; Texas is one of several states that affords legal recognition to these relationships, which it officially calls "informal marriages." There is an established procedure in Texas to register an informal marriage or prove that a marital relationship exists between a man and a woman that is without the benefit of a religious or civil ceremony.
You may establish a legal informal marriage in Texas by registering the marriage with the local county court. For this, state law requires a "Declaration and Registration of Informal Marriage," which lists the names of both parties to the marriage, declares that neither party is related to one another by blood or adoption, and affirms the parties agreed to be married to one another as of a certain date, lived together and held themselves out to the public as husband and wife. The parties must sign the declaration and take an oath before the clerk of court.
Unregistered Common Law Marriages
If a Texas informal marriage is not registered, the couple may still have it legally recognized. The couple must meet three basic requirements: both parties must agree to the marriage, live together in the state as husband and wife, and hold themselves out to the public as a married couple. The representation of an informal marriage to others can be proven by witnessed statements, signed contracts or lease agreements, or by filing a joint tax return.
If a couple in an informal marriage decides to separate and later file for divorce, either spouse must prove the validity of the informal marriage within two years of the separation. If the couple does not meet this deadline, state law presumes the informal marriage never existed. As a result, a legal divorce, and the protection of property and rights that divorce laws afford former spouses, becomes unavailable to the couple unless they can overcome this presumption. This provision of Texas law applies to couples that separated after September 1, 1989.
Divorce Law and Informal Marriage
To prove an informal marriage, the party asserting the marriage must provide evidence of all three requirements as set down in the law. If a couple successfully asserts an informal marriage, the state allows a legal divorce. Division of property, child custody and other matters are decided by law in the same manner as they would be with a formally married couple. Even if a couple has not proven a valid informal marriage, either partner may petition the court for orders concerning child support and visitation.
References & Resources
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images