Common law marriage or an “informal” marriage is only recognized in a few states, including Texas.
Qualifications for Common Law Marriage
- An agreement to be married by BOTH spouses;
- The spouses “hold out” as married—i.e., they introduce themselves in the community as “husband and wife” or by filing a joint income tax return;
- Legally of age to marry;
- Cohabitation (spouses live together).
Common law marriage, in the eyes of the law, makes a couple legally married even if they never had a wedding or obtained a marriage license. A common law marriage must be proven within two years of the end of the time the husband and wife lived together (called cohabitation). If a common law divorce is not brought within that two year period, there is a presumption that it was not a marriage. In order to terminate a common law marriage the spouses should reach an agreement on the division of assets, debts and any children; in cases where they cannot, a formal divorce proceeding should be filed.
A formal divorce proceeding may be needed, in cases where there are large assets (e.g., retirement accounts, property, etc.), or minor children, or situations where there has been abuse or the threat of abuse.
Just living together cannot qualify as a common-law marriage; the spouses must also hold out to the public that they are married and intend to create a common-law marriage.
Common law divorce in Texas involves the same rights, obligations and procedures for ending a formal marriage, with the exception that informally married couples must prove that they had a common law marriage.
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