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Informal Marriage in Texas: What is It?

Sophia Merton
February 27, 2024

There are a lot of reasons why a couple might not want to get formally married, but there are also compelling legal and financial benefits to being married on paper. In this article, we’re going to take a look at everything you need to know about informal marriage in Texas.

Here’s the short story, though.

  • Also referred to as common law marriage, informal marriage is a legal form of marriage in a number of states, including Texas.

In order to be married in the eyes of the law without going through the typical avenues, couples need to be able to prove that they meet certain criteria.

Whether you’re considering beginning an informal marriage, wondering how dissolving a common law marriage works, or just curious to learn more about family law in Texas, this guide will go over all of the basics you need to know.

What Is Informal Marriage in Texas?

Informal marriage, also known as a common law marriage, is a recognized legal status where a couple is considered married without formally registering their marriage through a ceremony or obtaining a marriage license.

couple with an informal marriage in texas hugging in front of the ocean

To prove an informal marriage in Texas, the couple must meet specific criteria. An individual and their partner need to be able to show that they:

  • Were both at least eighteen years old when the informal marriage began, and
  • Both are in agreement that they are married, and
  • Weren’t married (whether through common law or formal marriage) to anyone else at the time that their informal marriage began, and
  • Lived in Texas as a married couple, and
  • Represented yourself to other people as a married couple

How to Declare an Informal Marriage

If you and your significant other agree to be married informally, you can sign a specific document known as the Declaration of Informal Marriage and file it with the county clerk in your Texas county.

couple with an informal marriage in texas walking hand in hand in a pond

This declaration serves as valid and legitimate proof that you and your partner are married in the eyes of the law. Essentially, you and your significant other can be married for all legal purposes by signing and filing this declaration.

Are you looking for more info about family law in Texas? Check out these guides:

Informal Marriage and the Texas Family Code

Texas law states that couples can legally and validly get married by providing evidence of the following:

  • “(1) agreed to be married; and
  • (2) after the agreement, they lived together in this state as husband and wife
  • (3) represented to others that they were married” (TEX. FAM. CODE ANN § 2.401(a)(2).)

Why Is It Important to Prove an Informal Marriage?

When you and your partner aren’t interested in getting married through the traditional avenues, you might be wondering why you would bother signing a declaration and filing it with the county.

couple with an informal marriage in texas in front of a lake and mountains

The truth is, though, that this is more than “just a piece of paper.” There are a number of scenarios you could find yourself in where you might need to prove that you and your partner were in a common-law marriage.

These include:

  • Issues regarding inheritance: When one partner passes away without leaving a will, the surviving partner may need to prove the existence of an informal marriage to assert their rights to the deceased partner's estate. Without evidence of the informal marriage, the surviving partner may not be entitled to inherit under intestacy laws.
  • Divorce and property rights: If a couple accumulates property during their informal marriage, disputes over property ownership may crop up when they separate. Proving the existence of the informal marriage can help establish each partner's property rights and entitlements to assets acquired during the relationship.
  • Healthcare and insurance benefits: In situations where one partner is hospitalized or requires medical care, proving the existence of an informal marriage may be necessary to ensure that the other partner has the legal authority to make medical decisions on their behalf. Additionally, some healthcare plans and insurance policies may extend benefits to spouses, requiring proof of marriage.
  • Child custody and support: When a common law marriage involves children, establishing the relationship's legal validity may be crucial in determining parental rights, custody arrangements, and child support obligations in the event of separation or divorce.
  • Social Security and pension benefits: Proving an informal marriage may be necessary to claim survivor benefits under Social Security or pension plans based on the deceased partner's work history.
  • Taxes and financial considerations: Married couples may benefit from certain tax advantages, such as filing joint tax returns or claiming deductions available only to spouses. Proving the existence of an informal marriage can allow couples to avail themselves of these benefits.

How Do I Prove That We Are Informally Married?

Proving that you agreed to be married and represented yourselves as married in an informal marriage in Texas isn't something that hinges on one particular fact.

couple with an informal marriage in texas walking holding hands in a field

Courts can look at each particular circumstance and infer an agreement to be married and represent yourselves as married to others through proof such as the following:

  • You and your partner told other people that you were married
  • You and your partner lived together
  • You and your partner signed documents (such as leases) as spouses
  • You or your partner used the other individual’s last name
  • You and your partner filed taxes as married people filing single or filed joint tax returns
  • You and your partner made joint loan applications
  • One of the two parties involved made the other the beneficiary of a life insurance policy
  • You and your partner have children together
  • You or your partner listed the other individual as “spouse” on public benefits applications
  • You and your partner made joint purposes

Is There a Deadline For Proving My Informal Marriage?

If you and your partner separate but neither of you takes any action to put an end to the union for two years legally, the legal presumption is that the two of you never actually had the intention to be married.

Essentially, it is prudent to go through the process of legally ending an informal marriage if you and your partner are splitting up. Otherwise, it becomes much more difficult to prove that the marriage ever actually existed. This can have implications for issues of divorce as well as inheritance.

Dissolving an Informal Marriage in Texas

Dissolving an informal marriage in Texas follows a process similar to that of dissolving a formal marriage.

  • Despite not having undergone a formal ceremony or obtained a marriage license, an informal marriage is legally recognized and must be dissolved through appropriate legal avenues.

What this means is that you’ll need to file for divorce if you want to end a common-law marriage in Texas. If you don’t file this paperwork before two years have gone by since your separation, however, Texas law presumes that the marriage didn’t ever exist in the first place unless you can prove to them otherwise.

Common Myths About Common Law Marriage

Many people mistakenly believe that a couple will automatically be “common law married” if they are living together for a certain number of years. This actually isn’t the case at all. There isn’t a magic number of years you can be together under one roof and be seen as married in the eyes of the law.

In order to be seen as married in Texas without getting a marriage certificate and performing a ceremony, you must:

  • Agree that you’re married
  • Live together under one roof as spouses
  • Represent (also known as “holding out”) to others that the two of you are married

A valid common-law marriage requires that all three of these conditions are met. Both parties also have to be at least eighteen, not currently married, and not related to one another. They must both have the mental capacity to agree to the marriage.

If you cannot prove that you are informally married, it means you won’t be able to get a divorce, as the court presumes the marriage never existed. This can have an implication on a number of issues, including property division in the case of separation.

Navigating Family Law in Texas

Whether you are wondering about inheritance issues in a common law marriage or concerned about dissolving one, understanding the basics of informal marriage in Texas can help ensure that you receive the legal treatment you deserve as a part of a married couple.

There are lots of different reasons why a couple might choose to get married informally. Even though it might seem like an unnecessary step to file a declaration with the county, doing so can help protect both of your interests down the road.

Are you looking for more information about family law in Texas? Make sure you check out the rest of our Texas Divorce Laws blog!

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is a researcher and writer that aims to help make the complexities of the legal system understandable to the layperson. Believing that people can be empowered by understanding their rights and responsibilities under the law, Sophia aims to offer accurate and well-researched information in straightforward and easy-to-digest legal articles.

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