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Informal marriage and family legal issues in Texas (part 1)

Few Dallas residents would ever expect to find themselves facing a lawsuit over a marriage they didn't know they had. Yet our last blog post covered just such a situation, which came about in part due to Texas' somewhat lesser-known laws regarding common law marriage, also known in Texas as informal marriage. Informal marriage is something that can benefit residents in certain situations, although it's important to understand what it is -- and what it is not. Let's take a look first at just what common law marriage is and some background as to how it came to be.

Common law marriage dates all the way back to the late nineteenth century. In those early days, especially out on the frontier, there were far fewer legal and religious officials available to perform marriages. Transportation to a city via horse-drawn carriage could take precious time away from the chores on the homestead, not to mention the costs involved in getting married at a time where every penny could make or break a family's livelihood.

Yet, as unmarried couples today are keenly aware, there are certain rights and protections that come along with a legal marriage. In order to afford those rights to couples who lived together as spouses but for whom a formal marriage was out of reach, informal marriage became an option. Ever since that time, a Texas couple can enter into an informal marriage if:

  • They live together;
  • They both intend to marry each other; and
  • They let others know that they are spouses.

The last point can be accomplished by sharing the same last name, mingling funds in shared bank accounts or simply by referring to each other as husband and wife. Holding a ceremony or signing a written declaration of informal marriage are easy ways to establish one, but are not necessary.

Informal marriage situations can become complicated when family legal issues arise. We'll take a look at some of these in a follow-up blog post.

Source: Findlaw.com, "Common Law Marriage: The Basics," accessed on Oct. 18, 2014

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