Common Law Marriage

Common Law Marriage in Texas | The Law Office of Whitney L. Thompson

In the state of Texas, common law marriage holds a distinct legal status. This form of marriage, also known as informal marriage, is recognized under Texas law but often misconstrued due to misunderstandings and misinformation. Embarking on the path of establishing a common law marriage can be a meaningful journey for couples. However, navigating the intricacies of this legal process requires careful attention to detail and a comprehensive understanding of state laws. At The Law Office of Whitney L. Thompson, we recognize the complexities that come with establishing a Common Law Marriage in Texas. Our experienced Houston family law attorneys are dedicated to guiding you through every step of this process, ensuring that your commitment is legally recognized with precision and confidence.

If you’re embarking on this unique journey or need assistance in proving the validity of your common law marriage, our experienced attorneys are ready to offer tailored solutions and unwavering support.

Contact us today at (281) 214-0173 to ensure that your path to a recognized common law marriage is navigated with the quality representation you deserve.

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What is Common Law Marriage?

Common law marriage is a legally recognized marital relationship that does not follow the traditional path of obtaining a marriage license and participating in a formal ceremony. In Texas, couples can be considered legally married under common law if they meet specific criteria, even without a marriage license or a ceremonial event. While common law marriage might differ from the conventional wedding process, it still carries the same legal implications and responsibilities.

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Requirements for Establishing Common Law Marriage in Texas

Determining whether a common law marriage exists involves examining various factors that indicate the nature of the relationship.

Both partners must agree to be married and present themselves to the public as a married couple. This involves using the same last name, referring to each other as spouses, and presenting themselves as a married couple in various aspects of their lives.

It is also important to remember that in order for a spouse to be able to consent to the marriage, they must be at least 18 years of age or older. Individuals under 18 are not considered legally able to consent to a common law marriage.

One of the primary factors indicating a common law marriage is the matter of cohabitation and the couple’s behavior in presenting themselves as a married unit:

Cohabitation: While there is no specific timeframe required for cohabitation, a significant period of living together can contribute to establishing a common law marriage. Continuous cohabitation implies a shared life and domestic arrangement beyond occasional visits. However, if a couple has separated or stopped living together for more than two years before applying for a common law marriage, they may need to start cohabitating again before the state can recognize their intent to marry.

Holding Out as Married: Presenting yourselves to others as a married couple plays a pivotal role. This involves introducing each other as spouses, using the same last name, and generally behaving as if you were formally married when interacting with friends, family, and the community.

While not legal requirements, the following factors corroborate the existence of an informal marriage and can help establish the couple as holding out as married:

Sharing Finances and Assets

Engaging in shared financial responsibilities and assets can signify a heightened level of commitment reminiscent of a formal marital relationship. This commitment is evidenced through practices like pooling finances, maintaining shared bank accounts, and collaboratively contributing to expenses, all of which mirror the financial partnership commonly associated with marriage. Furthermore, assuming joint financial obligations such as co-signing loans or leases further underscores the depth of commitment, aligning with the responsibilities characteristic of a marital partnership.

Joint Property Ownership and Beneficiary Designations

Possessing joint property ownership and designating each other as beneficiaries in legal documents can additionally serve as indicators of a common law marriage. The act of collectively owning property, whether it pertains to a residence, vehicle, or other assets, underscores the shared investment in each other’s life journey. Similarly, selecting one another as beneficiaries in crucial documents like wills, life insurance policies, and retirement accounts signifies a conscious acknowledgment of the relationship’s profound meaning and commitment.

Community Recognition of the Relationship

Community acknowledgment and validation of the relationship can equally function as supporting evidence for the existence of a common law marriage. When friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues universally acknowledge the couple as a married entity, it lends credence to the claim of a common law marriage. Moreover, partaking in social gatherings as a couple and publicly introducing each other as spouses solidify the notion of a profound and committed marital partnership.

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Myth vs. Reality: Common Law Marriage Misconceptions

There are several misconceptions associated with common-law marriage in Texas. It’s essential to dispel these myths to better understand the legal implications:

  • Myth: Simply living together for a certain number of years automatically results in a common law marriage.
  • Reality: While cohabitation is a crucial factor, it’s not the only criterion. The agreement to be married, holding out as married, and cohabitation all need to be satisfied.
  • Myth: A common law marriage can be established if the couple has a child together.
  • Reality: Having a child together does not, by itself, establish a common law marriage. The key criteria mentioned earlier must still be met.
  • Myth: Texas no longer recognizes common law marriage.
  • Reality: Texas law does recognize common law marriage if the requirements are met. However, many misconceptions have arisen due to changes in legal trends and the increasing popularity of formal marriages.

Meeting the specific requirements for this type of marriage is essential to gaining the legal rights and responsibilities associated with a formal marriage. To ensure that your informal marriage is legally established, it’s advised to consult legal professionals. A skilled Houston family law attorney can help provide guidance in matters related to common law marriage and compliance with Texas laws. Contact The Law Office of Whitney L. Thompson today to schedule a consultation.

Common Law Marriage vs. Formal Marriage

When it comes to marriage, couples have options beyond the traditional formal marriage ceremony. In Texas, couples can choose between common law marriage and formal marriage.

While both common law marriage and formal marriage involve a committed partnership, there are legal distinctions between the two:

  • Formation: Formal marriage requires obtaining a marriage license and participating in a legally recognized ceremony, often officiated by a clergy member or justice of the peace. In contrast, common law marriage can be established through mutual agreement, cohabitation, and holding out as married without a formal ceremony or license. Parties may file declaration of informal marriage to show proof of intent to be formally married. 
  • Recognition: Formal marriages are universally recognized and provide clear legal status in all states. Common law marriages, however, might not be recognized outside of Texas, which could lead to legal complexities when crossing state borders.
  • Dissolution: Dissolving a formal marriage involves legal processes such as divorce. For common law marriages, a formal legal process is required to end the union, similar to divorce proceedings, as the legal recognition of the relationship is equivalent. However, you do have to establish that a marriage existed when seeking to divorce whereas in formal marriage you do not.

Common law marriage offers certain advantages and disadvantages:


  • Simplicity: Common law marriage doesn’t require the expense and formality of a wedding ceremony or obtaining a marriage license.
  • Informality: Couples who prefer a more private commitment may find common law marriage appealing, as it doesn’t involve a public ceremony.
  • Legal Rights: Once established, common law marriages provide the same legal rights and responsibilities as formal marriages, including property division and spousal support.


  • Lack of Clarity: Without a formal ceremony and license, proving the existence of a common law marriage can be challenging, especially when legal disputes arise.
  • Recognition Issues: Common law marriages might not be recognized in states that don’t acknowledge this form of union, potentially leading to complications if the couple relocates.
  • Complex Termination: Ending a common law marriage requires establishing proof of the marriage to terminate the relationship by means of divorce, adding complexity to the process.
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Is There a Legal Requirement to Declare a Common Law Marriage?

In Texas, there is no legal requirement to formally declare or register a common law marriage with a government agency or authority. Unlike formal marriages that necessitate obtaining a marriage license and conducting a formal ceremony, common law marriages are established through the couple’s actions and behaviors that demonstrate their intent to be married.

However, some couples may choose to create a written “Declaration of Informal Marriage” document to further emphasize their intent to be considered as married. This declaration can be signed, notarized, and filed with the county clerk where they reside, and it can serve as evidence of their commitment. While such a document can help strengthen their claim to a common law marriage, it is not a legal requirement and does not supersede the importance of meeting the fundamental criteria established by Texas law.

It’s worth noting that while there is no formal legal process to establish a common law marriage, the lack of a declaration might lead to challenges when trying to prove the existence of the relationship in legal matters, such as inheritance disputes or property division during separation. Seeking legal advice and understanding the legal implications is crucial for couples considering or involved in common law marriages in Texas. To learn more about the process of establishing a common law marriage, call The Law Office of Whitney L. Thompson to schedule a consultation. We can help you explore your options and assist you in making an informed decision.

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Importance of Establishing a Common Law Marriage

Establishing a common law marriage holds significant importance for couples who choose this path to commitment. This section delves into the reasons why formally establishing a common law marriage can have far-reaching legal, financial, and personal implications.

Formally establishing a common law marriage provides clarity about the relationship’s legal status. This clarity becomes invaluable in situations such as:

  • Medical Decisions: Having legal recognition as a spouse allows partners to make important medical decisions for each other in times of illness or emergency.
  • Property Transactions: When dealing with property transactions, having a recognized marital status can simplify processes and prevent disputes.
  • Legal Disputes: In case of disputes or challenges related to the common law marriage, having a formal legal record of the relationship can expedite the resolution process.

Formalizing a common law marriage can also have social and personal benefits:

  • Community Recognition: Having a formal legal status as a married couple ensures that friends, family, and the community recognize the commitment, which can lead to a more stable and supported relationship.
  • Emotional Reassurance: Knowing that the relationship has legal recognition can offer emotional reassurance and strengthen the bond between partners.
  • Planning for the Future: Establishing a common law marriage allows couples to plan for their future together, whether it’s financial planning, estate planning, or family goals.

The importance of formally establishing a common law marriage lies in the legal protections, rights, clarity, and recognition it provides to couples. It ensures that the commitment is recognized not only by the partners themselves but also by society and the legal system. 

Common law marriages can bring about unique challenges when it comes to dissolution, property division, child custody, and dispute resolution. Some common challenges that arise as a result of not establishing a common law marriage can include the following:


Ending a common law marriage in Texas involves a legal process that requires careful attention to proving the existence of the marriage before proceeding with the divorce. Unlike formal marriages, where the marriage certificate serves as clear evidence of the union, common law marriages require the presentation of specific evidence to validate the marriage’s existence. 

Property Distribution

Property distribution in a common law marriage divorce involves the equitable division of assets acquired during the course of the relationship. To ensure a fair division, it’s important to provide evidence of joint ownership, shared financial responsibilities, and contributions to property acquisition. Documentation of joint property ownership, shared bank accounts, co-signed loans, and evidence of financial collaboration can establish the interdependent nature of the relationship, influencing how assets are allocated.

Child Custody

When addressing child custody in a common law marriage, the court’s primary focus remains the best interests of the child. Presenting evidence that showcases your role as a parental unit is crucial. This includes demonstrating active participation in the child’s upbringing, involvement in their education, and participation in medical decisions. Witness testimonies, documentation of joint activities, and records of shared responsibilities can help establish your credibility as a responsible parent within the common law marriage.

Child Support

Child support obligations in a common law marriage are determined similarly to formal marriages. The court considers factors such as both parents’ income, the child’s needs, and the standard of living they were accustomed to during the common law marriage. To ensure a fair assessment, provide evidence of your financial contributions to the child’s upbringing, shared expenses, and a history of financial support.

When a common law spouse passes away without a will, establishing evidence of the marriage becomes crucial in determining inheritance rights. Without a will, Texas intestate succession laws govern the distribution of the deceased spouse’s estate. Providing proof of the common law marriage ensures that the surviving partner is legally entitled to a share of the estate, just like a formally married spouse. Documentation such as joint accounts, shared property ownership records, and affidavits from witnesses attesting to the marital relationship are valuable evidence to secure inheritance rights.

Demonstrating the common law marriage’s existence is also pertinent when dealing with property ownership matters. Property acquired during the marriage is typically considered jointly owned. Evidence of the marriage reinforces the claim that both partners have equitable ownership rights. This evidence can be particularly crucial if disputes arise over the division of property or if the surviving partner seeks to assert ownership rights in the event of separation or the passing of the other spouse.

Collecting comprehensive evidence is essential in these scenarios. While a formal marriage certificate is not required, proof of the common law marriage through shared financial responsibilities, cohabitation, joint property ownership, and community recognition significantly strengthens the case for inheritance rights and property ownership claims.

Navigating these matters in a common law marriage involves a nuanced understanding of Texas law and the presentation of evidence that demonstrates the nature and commitment of your relationship. Consulting a skilled family law attorney is essential to effectively advocate for your rights, present your case persuasively, and secure a favorable outcome.

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Consult a Houston Family Law Attorney

Enlisting the guidance of a skilled Houston family law attorney from The Law Office of Whitney L. Thompson can make a significant difference when navigating the Texas laws involving common law marriage. 

Our team understands the nuances of Texas law and the specific requirements for proving the existence of a common law marriage. With unwavering dedication, we work alongside you to gather compelling evidence, navigate legal intricacies, and safeguard your rights. Whether you’re considering embarking on this unique journey or need assistance in proving the validity of your common law marriage, our experienced attorneys are here to provide tailored solutions and unwavering support.

Contact us today at (281) 214-0173 to schedule a consultation and ensure that your path to a recognized common law marriage is navigated with precision and confidence.

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