Texas Common Law Marriage

Is there common law marriage in Texas, and if so, what is common law marriage in Texas?

Is Texas a common law state? Yes. Common law marriage—or informal marriage, as it referred to in Texas—is recognized by the state of Texas but couples must meet certain conditions to prove a legal marriage exists. Under Texas law, a common law marriage in Texas can be established through proof that the couple has met three conditions. So, what is required for common law marriage in Texas? The three conditions a couple must meet include:

  • “Mutually agreed to enter into matrimony”
  • “Subsequently cohabitated in this state as a married couple.”
  • “Held themselves out to the public as a married pair.”

There are also some misconceptions about common law marriage Texas residents should learn about if this type of legal marriage is of interest to them.

The BIGGEST misconception about what is common law marriage Texas?

The BIGGEST misconceptions about common law marriage in Texas usually revolve around questions like:

  • How long do you have to be together in Texas for common law marriage?
  • How long do you have to live together to be common law married?
  • How many years in a relationship are you considered married?

The reality is, relationship duration has zero bearing on whether a couple is in a common law Texas marriage or not. Oftentimes, when people ask is common law marriage recognized in Texas, and they find out that it is in fact recognized, they mistakenly believe that living together for a certain period of time equates to common law marriage Texas—6 months, 5 years, 10 years, etc. It does NOT. This myth is false not only in Texas but in other states in the US. So, if you’re wondering how long is Texas common law marriage required to last in order to qualify as a legal marriage—that is not a factor in Texas.

While Texas doesn’t consider how many years is common law marriage required to last, the state has established other conditions that couples must meet to prove marriage by common law in Texas. According to Texas Family Code Chapter 2.401, in order to establish a legally valid common law marriage in Texas (informal marriage), couples must provide evidence of the following three conditions as noted above. So, for common law marriage, what makes you legally married in Texas includes:

  1. They both agreed to be married; and
  2. After agreeing to be married they lived together as husband and wife in the state of Texas; and
  3. They represented to others (often described as “holding out” to others) that they are a married couple.

So, does Texas recognize common law marriage? Yes, but couples who want to know how to prove common law marriage in Texas must meet all three conditions simultaneously in order to establish a legally valid common law marriage in Texas.

In addition, couples must also comply with other Texas marriage laws to meet common law marriage requirements in Texas, including:

  • Both parties must be at least 18 years of age.
  • Neither party can be married to anyone else.
  • The parties may be not related to one another (among other stipulations).

In order to “make it official,” both parties can sign a Declaration of Informal Marriage form and file the form with the county clerk in the county where they reside, after which the couple can obtain a marriage license in Texas. The signing and filing of the Declaration of Informal Marriage form validates the Texas common law marriage as a legal marriage and entitles the parties to the same rights and duties as couples joined together through traditional ceremonial marriage.

How many times can you get married in Texas?

In Texas, you can marry as many times as you want but to only one person at a time. If previously married elsewhere, dissolve that marriage before a legal one in Texas.

Do unmarried partners have any rights in Texas?

Unmarried partners typically do not enjoy the same rights that married partners do in Texas, as marriages is what creates community property.  In the event of a breakup, unmarried partners do not have community property assets and debts to divide, and ownership or responsibilities of these assets and debts is based solely on title. Furthermore, unmarried partners do not have the ability to receive spousal maintenance.  

Unmarried couples can however come to certain agreements regarding finances by executing cohabitation agreements or other legal documents that establish property ownership and rights (similar to formal business arrangements regarding property). If you have concerns about property or financial support from a partner you are not legally married to, formally or informally, a family law attorney can explain your options.

How are disputes about common law marriage Texans resolved?

Whether or not a couple is common law married can become an issue when a couple splits and one party wants to take advantage of Texas’ community property laws. Texas is a community property state, which means that all assets and debts accumulated during marriage are subject to just and equitable division upon divorce.

The Texas family courts consider common law marriage disputes on a case-by-case basis. That piece of paper—the Declaration of Informal Marriage—isn’t required. If one party can prove the couple met all three conditions required for informal marriage in Texas, then community property will need to be considered.

Couples take many actions that compel the state to believe, “These two people lived like a married couple.” The court will weigh all of the evidence. For example, if you filed taxes as a married couple, applied for loans as a married couple, wore rings on your ring fingers for the whole world to see and held yourself out as a married couple in other ways, the court could declare the informal marriage as valid.

However, timing is critical. You must file a common law marriage claim less than two years after separating from the other party. Otherwise, the court will presume that no legal marriage exists.

If you find yourself in a legal dispute over a common law marriage, it’s best to not delay in seeking legal advice from a family law attorney familiar with the intricacies of Texas common law marriage. Even if less than two years have passed, details and memories of potential witnesses can get murky. For example, in order to establish common law marriage in Texas, a couple must have represented themselves to others as being married, which is often confirmed (or not confirmed) by witnesses who knew and spent time with the couple. As time goes by, memories fade.

Can same-sex couples get common law married in Texas?

Yes. Following the US Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage, same-sex common law marriage has been recognized by the state of Texas. In addition, the state recognizes the legal date of marriage as the earliest date the couple met all of the legal requirements for common law marriage or informal marriage in Texas.

One of the interesting aspects of Texas legalizing same-sex marriage is the state’s Relation Back Doctrine. Among other legal claims, the doctrine allows same-sex couples that had a ceremonial or legal marriage in another state that recognizes same-sex marriage (and/or a common-law marriage claim in another state) to “prove that up.”

For example, if a same-sex couple legally married in Vermont on May 1, 2010, Texas would recognize that date as the couple’s legal marriage date because the state of Vermont legalized same-sex marriage in 2009.

What if things don’t work out, can I get a common law divorce in Texas?

Another misconception about common law marriage Texas residents should be aware of is the existence of common law divorce. Common law divorce Texas doesn’t exist because once the state legally recognizes your informal marriage, you need to get a regular divorce just like people who tied the knot in a ceremonial marriage.

If you do plan to divorce after a common-law marriage, the legally recognized date of marriage will be critical since Texas is a community property state. That means any assets accumulated from the date of marriage up to the date of the divorce are subject to division as community property. Like other community property states, Texas also recognizes separate property, which are those assets owned by a party prior to the divorce and may include certain assets gifted to one party but not the other during the marriage.

This brings us back to same-sex marriage and the Relation Back Doctrine. Following the legalization of same-sex marriage, our Fort Worth family law firm has handled more same-sex divorces. What we’re seeing a lot now with same-sex divorces is how the doctrine applies to claims for marital assets, which due to Relation Back go back to the date a couple legally married.

Should you decide to end your Texas common law marriage and get a divorce, it will be essential to create an inventory of all assets accumulated during the marriage and distinguish those assets from those that would qualify as separate property. Both parties are required to submit an inventory of assets during the discovery phase in a Texas divorce.

You can see how disputes over the legal marriage date can play a role in Texas divorces and community property involving both common law and same-sex marriages. The same holds true for alimony, or spousal maintenance, as it’s known in Texas.

In general, a party must prove he or she is unable to provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs and meet certain conditions to receive spousal support in Texas. One of those conditions is that in general, a party must prove he or she is unable to provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs and meet certain conditions to receive spousal support in Texas. One of those conditions is that the marriage lasted 10 years or more. The 10-year requirement could be waived if the paying spouse was convicted of or received deferred adjudication for an act of family violence during the quick divorce process or within two years of the divorce filing.

If you’re expecting an alimony windfall in Texas, you better brace yourself. The state caps alimony at If you’re expecting an alimony windfall in Texas, you better brace yourself. The state caps alimony at $5,000 per month or 20 percent of the paying spouse’s average monthly gross income, whichever is less. How long you may receive spousal support in Texas is also limited based on years of marriage and other factors. Your divorce attorney can explain the options available to you.

Have questions about common law marriage in Texas or divorce?

If you’re wondering how to prove common law marriage in Texas, and you’d like to speak with a  family law attorney in Fort Worth, contact us to schedule a confidential case review with our founder divorce lawyer Justin Sisemore. To do so, please call the firm at (817) 336-4444 or visit our contact page to schedule online.