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Common Issues in Common Law Divorce

Common law marriage, also known as "informal marriage," is recognized in Texas alongside nine other states and the District of Columbia. Unlike traditional marriages that require a formal ceremony and license, common law marriages in Texas are based on the couple's agreement and cohabitation. Despite its informal nature, common law marriage holds the same legal weight as a formal marriage, making its dissolution just as complex.

Criteria for a Legal Common Law Marriage in Texas

For a common law marriage to be legally recognized in Texas, it must meet specific criteria:

  • Marital Status: Neither partner should already be married, either formally or informally.
  • Age Requirement: Both partners must be at least 18 years old when the marriage begins.
  • Mutual Agreement: Both partners must agree to be married.
  • Public Representation: The couple must represent to others that they are married.
  • Cohabitation: The partners must live together in Texas as husband and wife.

If these criteria are met, the couple can file a Declaration of Informal Marriage with the county clerk. This declaration serves as legal proof of marriage, affecting taxes, financial matters, and property ownership. However, even without this declaration, a common law marriage can still be valid, though proving its existence may be more challenging during a separation.

  • You were not already married, either formally or informally
  • You and your partner were at least 18 when the marriage began
  • You agreed to be married and represented to others that you were married
  • You and your partner lived together in Texas as husband and wife

If you meet these qualifications, your marriage qualifies as common-law. You can file a Declaration of and Registration of Informal Marriage in the county where you live. This makes you married for all legal purposes such as taxes, financial matters and property ownership.

It’s important to note that your common law marriage will still be legal if you do not file the Declaration, as long as you meet the criteria above. Without the Declaration, however, you will find things more challenging if you later decide to split up.

Common Issues in Common Law Divorce

Can I Just Walk Away From My Informal Marriage?

If your common law marriage ends, you may be able to just walk away with no formal legal process, especially if you never filed the Declaration and Registration form with the county clerk or you were living apart for at least two years. If you have children, property, or debts together, however, you will almost certainly need to file for divorce.

Texas law allows informally married couples to divorce in Texas. The process is the same as that for married couples with a license, with one exception. You must prove the existence of your common law marriage by showing that it meets the criteria above.

Dissolving a Common Law Marriage in Texas

Ending a common law marriage isn't as simple as just walking away. While it may seem possible if the couple never filed a Declaration of Informal Marriage or has been living apart for at least two years, complications arise when children, property, or debts are involved. In such cases, filing for divorce becomes necessary.

The divorce process for common law marriages mirrors that of formal marriages, with one significant difference: the need to prove the existence of the marriage. This proof involves demonstrating that all the legal criteria for a common law marriage were met.

Challenges in Common Law Divorce

1. Proving the Marriage One of the most significant challenges in a common law divorce is proving that the marriage existed. This often involves presenting evidence such as:

  • Joint tax returns
  • Shared bank accounts
  • Leases or mortgages in both names
  • Affidavits from friends and family attesting to the marriage

2. Denial of Marriage Denial of the common law marriage is a frequent issue. One partner might deny the marriage to avoid sharing community property or to escape charges of bigamy if they have remarried. This denial can lead to a contentious and prolonged divorce process, requiring extensive evidence and legal intervention.

3. Division of Property Like in formal marriages, the division of property can be complex in a common law divorce. All property acquired during the marriage is considered community property and is subject to division. Without clear documentation, proving ownership and entitlement can be difficult.

4. Child Custody and Support Child custody and support issues are also prominent in common law divorces. The court will consider the best interests of the child, which may involve examining the living conditions and the relationship each parent has with the child. Proving parental involvement and stability can be challenging without formal records.

Benefits of a Formal Divorce

Despite the challenges, there are significant benefits to formally divorcing from a common law marriage:

  • Legal Protection: Formalizing the divorce provides legal protection and clarity, especially concerning property rights and future acquisitions.
  • Child Welfare: It ensures that children are legally protected and their support and custody are clearly defined.
  • Avoiding Future Disputes: It helps prevent future disputes over property and other matters, providing a clear legal end to the marriage.

Get Help Choosing the Right Path for Your Common Law Marriage

To avoid the pitfalls of common law divorce, couples should consider formalizing their common law marriage with a Declaration of Informal Marriage. If one partner refuses to sign this declaration, it may indicate potential future complications. In such cases, seeking legal advice early can be beneficial.

Why Choose Setzer Law Firm, PLLC?

At Setzer Law Firm, PLLC, we specialize in handling the complexities of common law divorces. Our experienced family law attorneys understand the nuances of Texas law and are dedicated to protecting your rights and interests. If you're facing a common law divorce, we can provide the guidance and representation you need to navigate this challenging process.

Contact Setzer Law Firm, PLLC, Today Don’t navigate the intricacies of a common law divorce alone. Contact Setzer Law Firm, PLLC, today to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced Texas family lawyers. We are here to help you understand your rights and guide you through every step of the process, ensuring a fair and just outcome. Learn more by speaking with an experienced Texas family lawyer today.

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