Not all marriages start with a marriage license and an official wedding ceremony. In Texas, it is possible for a couple to enter a common law marriage.
It is also possible for a couple in this type of marriage to get a divorce.
There are many persistent myths about common law marriage. A common misconception is that if a couple lives together for seven years or longer, they are considered common law married.
This is not true in Texas. There is no relationship duration requirement for common law marriage in Texas.
Rather, there are a few simple, yet critical, requirements that separate couples in common law marriages from couples who simply live together.
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What Constitutes a Common Law Marriage?
Same sex and heterosexual couples can enter common law marriages. In order to enter a common law marriage in Texas, a couple must meet the following criteria:
- They agree to be married;
- They hold themselves out as married; and
- They live together as spouses in Texas.
“Holding themselves out to be married” means that the couple behaves like a married couple and leads others to believe that they are a legally married couple. A couple holding themselves out to be married may:
- Sign leases and other financial documents together as a married couple would;
- File their taxes jointly;
- Have the same last name, either legally or socially;
- Name each other as beneficiaries in their estate and retirement plans;
- Own assets jointly; and
- Refer to themselves and each other as spouses in conversations with other parties.
Simply living together does not make a couple common law married. Neither does having children together.
Couples in Common Law Marriages have the Same Legal Rights as Officially Married Couples
When a couple enters a common law marriage, they have the same exact rights that all other married couples have in Texas. These rights include:
- The right to seek a fair property division under Texas’ divorce laws;
- The right to establish a child custody order and a child support order if you have minor children; and
- The right to seek spousal maintenance after ending the relationship.
When determining an appropriate alimony order for a couple, the court considers a variety of factors. First, it must determine if the spouse seeking alimony qualifies for it. An individual may only receive alimony in Texas if one of the following is true:
- He or she was married for at least 10 years and does not have the income to support him- or herself after the divorce;
- He or she cannot work because he or she cares for a disabled child full time;
- The spouse who is not seeking alimony committed an act of family violence toward his or her partner or their child within the two years leading up to the divorce; or
- The spouse seeking alimony cannot work due to a physical or mental disability of his or her own.
How long an individual receives alimony after his or her divorce often depends on how long he or she was married, but this is not the case when the recipient is disabled or cares for a disabled child.
How much alimony an individual receives depends on a variety of factors, but it cannot be more than $5,000 per month or 20 percent of the paying spouse’s gross income, whichever is lower. Factors the court considers to determine one’s alimony amount include:
- Any history of family violence in the household;
- Any instances of adultery that occurred during the marriage;
- Each spouse’s income and assets at the time of the divorce;
- Each spouse’s financial and nonfinancial contributions to the household, including toward the other’s educational expenses;
- Each spouse’s employability, such as his or her work experience and vocational skills; and
- Whether either spouse pays child support at the time of the divorce.
Work with an Experienced Austin Divorce Lawyer
If you are in a common law marriage, you have the same right to seek a fair breakdown of your joint assets and to seek alimony as you would if you had been officially married. Work with an experienced divorce lawyer who can advocate for your rights and interests and if necessary, demonstrate to the court that you were in a common law marriage.
To discuss your case in greater detail and learn more about your rights and options, contact the Law Office of Ben Carrasco, PLLC today to schedule your initial legal consultation with us.