Texas is one of only 16 states in the U.S. that recognizes common law marriage. Common law marriages are legal marriage relationships that are formed without the formality of getting a marriage license. Given their lack of formal legal status, it would seem as though divorces in Texas common law marriages would be relatively simple. But, our experience at The Law Firm of Wendy L. Hart suggests that a marriage is a marriage; common-law unions are susceptible to all of the same complications that formal marriages are. In this article, we’ll unravel some of the unique challenges faced by Texas common-law couples in the midst of a divorce.
Are you Even Married?
One of the first hurdles that you need to clear when considering a Texas common law divorce is to determine if you were actually married. A common law marriage is called an “informal marriage” by the Texas Family Code and consists of three elements:
1. You have made an agreement to be married: There must be some agreement between both people that they are married.
2. You live as husband and wife in the State of Texas: There is no length of time required for an informal marriage to exist. If there is a dispute, it is up to the court to decide whether the marriage existed. Cohabitation is a reliable indicator of a common law marriage.
3. You represent to others that you are, in fact, married: If you tell your friends, coworkers, and family that you are married, that is substantial evidence that you are living as husband and wife.
Additionally, some common-law couples in Texas choose to sign a Declaration of Informal Marriage. This document is kept on file with the county clerk of court.
The question of whether or not an informal marriage exists is critical when it comes to divorce. If the informally married couple does not own assets together, do not have children, and are otherwise not financially bound to one another, then separation is relatively simple. In fact, some couples choose to end their union as informally as it began. But, be warned: There is no such thing as an informal divorce. Once you have met the requirements of an informal marriage, the only way out of it is death, annulment, or divorce.
Why You may Want to Dissolve an Informal Marriage Formally
Many common law marriages are no different than their formally licensed counterparts. Couples often own property, share assets, or have had children together. The rights of each of the parties in a divorce can only be exercised if the fact that the informal marriage existed is established to the satisfaction of the court. Additionally, a formal divorce process allows each of the parties to protect future earnings or to obtain spousal maintenance.
Getting your informal marriage officially dissolved is critical for another reason; being married to more than one person at a time (bigamy) is illegal in Texas. You do not need to be formally married to run afoul of the Texas bigamy law; if your previous relationship is proven to meet the standards of an informal marriage, any subsequent marriages are null and void. To make matters worse, bigamy is a third-degree felony in Texas. So, to avoid financial issues and criminal penalties, and the clear the way for another marriage down the road, obtaining a divorce is a smart option for those whose informal unions have come to an end.
Get the Right Legal Help for your Divorce
An informal marriage IS a legally binding contract between two people to be husband and wife. Neglecting to end such a relationship correctly can put your future marriage, assets, earnings, and even your reputation at risk. Once initiated, an informal marriage divorce proceeds like any other divorce proceeding; Texas law does not differentiate between the two.
If you are looking for help in ensuring that your rights are protected and that your informal marriage is ended in a legal fashion, contact The Law Office of Wendy L. Hart today. Wendy has more than 20 years of experience dealing with the intricacies of family law. As one of the American Institute of Family Law Attorneys’ “10 Best Female Attorneys,” Wendy will ensure that you have the right facts to make informed decisions about your future. Contact The Law Firm of Wendy L. Hart on our website or at (817) 842-2336.