Could You Be Informally Married and Not Even Know It?

Could You Be Informally Married and Not Even Know It?

Many people got their introduction to the idea of common law marriage (legally referred to as informal marriage) thanks to the 2001 movie Legally Blonde. In this film, a couple was in a relationship for ten years and living together, which was said to entitle them to an equitable division of property (aka she got to take the dog). However, the way common law marriage is presented in this film is not necessarily how it works in Texas.

In the state of Texas, a couple can be considered informally married if they concurrently meet three elements:

1.    Have an agreement between each other that they are married; 

2.     Live together in Texas after having the agreement to be married; and

3.    Represent to others that they are married.

Having an agreement to be married can be both explicit and implicit.  You can agree in writing on a document that may be referred to as a “Declaration of Informal Marriage”, or it can be inferred.  For example, the filing of joint taxes, signing a lease or signing up for insurance as married can indicate that you have an inferred agreement that you are married. While you and a friend may do one or more of these things to try and gain a mutual benefit, these actions can come with some serious consequences.

After the parties have an agreement to be married, we look at the other factors. Living together in Texas does not require any specific number of months or years.  Then, demonstrating to the public that you are married can be as simple as introducing someone as your husband/wife; this concept is also known as “holding out”.  The examples stated above regarding taxes, leases and insurance can also meet the “holding out” requirement.     

It is important to know that once you establish a common law marriage, there is no common law divorce. If you break up with someone you are common-law married to, it is likely that you will have to go to court and file for divorce. In the state’s eyes, common law marriage is the same as a formal ceremonial marriage if those three elements are met.

It is important to understand that property that you always thought of as just yours can be up for debate in a common-law marriage. If a former ‘spouse’ decides to take you to court and can backdate proof of common law marriage, they may be entitled to half of your assets, despite not having an “official” marriage document saying you are married. 

Needless to say, if the information above raises questions or causes you concern, you may need to talk to an expert.  If you have questions about informal marriage and/or divorce, contact the experienced family law attorneys at NB Family Law today by calling (940) 566-0606.

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Navarrette | Bowen, P.C. | Family Law Attorneys | Denton, TX