Many people have heard of the idea of a “Common Law” marriage, but do not really know what it means. It is the idea that, even though a man and a woman did not technically have a marriage ceremony, get a marriage license, and use the formal procedures to officially be “married,” they can still be considered married for legal purposes if they live together and hold themselves out to be husband and wife. In Texas, this concept, which has been around for quite some time, has now been codified into state law, and can be found in the Family Code, Section 2.041. Under this law, this idea is now called an “Informal Marriage” rather than a “Common-Law Marriage.”The issue of an Informal Marriage comes up quite a bit in the context of divorce cases or probate cases when a man or woman claims to have been informally married to the other person. In Texas, the person claiming there was a marriage has to prove that: a) the couple agreed to be married, b) after the agreement they lived together in Texas as husband and wife, and c) they presented themselves to others as husband and wife.These three elements can be met in a variety of ways. For instance, some couples have an informal “ceremony” or wedding reception where they invite family and friends, but do not formally have a marrage license signed by a minister, justice of the peace, or other person authorized to perform marriages. Likewise, many people live together for years, introduce each other as “husband” and “wife” to their friends and families, and share their financial lives together (e.g. having bank accounts together, owning a house together, etc.). Likewise, if people file their taxes as “Married Filing Jointly” or fill out government paperwork as a married couple, this can also be evidence of an informal marriage. There are many ways to prove an informal marriage, and courts allow people to use both direct evidence (e.g. filing a tax return as married filing jointly) or circumstantial evidence (e.g. a Valentine’s card written to “my husband”) as proof of the validity of the informal marriage.Proving that there was an informal marriage can be important to allow a spouse to get his/her rightful share of property in either a probate case or divorce case. It is important to note that Section 2.041 of the Family Code makes it much harder to claim that there was an Informal Marriage if you wait for more than 2 years after you stopped living together to file your case (whether it be a divorce or probate case). So it is important to make sure that you consult a lawyer who can help you assert your rights quickly, efficiently, and effectively in such cases.At Cook & Gore, we have helped people in Informal Marriages assert their rights, and would be happy to discuss your legal case with you. Give our Dallas Family Attorneys a call at 214-236-2712 to learn more.
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