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Rights of Unmarried Couples Living Together in Texas

Sophia Merton
May 30, 2024

There are lots of reasons why two people might choose to live under one roof without tying the knot. At the same time, it’s important to understand how the rights of unmarried couples living together in Texas differ from the rights offered to married spouses.

If you and your partner are in it for the long haul but not interested in getting married, there are a number of things you can do to protect your property and financial interests.

  • In this circumstance, you have two options: entering a common law marriage or creating a cohabitation agreement. Both of these steps can help ensure that you are protected in case the relationship were to end.

Let’s take a closer look at what you need to know about the rights of unmarried couples in Texas to help you determine the right course of action.

What Rights Do Unmarried Couples Have in Texas?

In Texas, unmarried couples do not have the same legal rights as married couples. If you and your partner were to marry, you would benefit from the following rights in the Lone Star State:

  • Property Rights: Texas is a community property state, meaning that most property acquired during the marriage (except for gifts or inheritances) is owned jointly by both spouses and must be divided equitably in the event of a divorce. This isn’t the case for unmarried couples.
  • Inheritance Rights: A spouse has the right to inherit from their deceased partner if the partner dies without a will. The extent of the inheritance can depend on whether there are children from the marriage. However, unmarried couples aren’t automatically granted this right.
  • Decision-Making Rights in Health Care: Spouses typically have the right to make medical decisions for each other if one becomes incapacitated and can't make decisions for themselves, which isn’t the case for unmarried couples.
  • Spousal Support (Alimony): In the event of a divorce, a spouse may be entitled to spousal support, particularly if the marriage was long-lasting and there is a significant discrepancy in earning capacities.
  • Tax Benefits: Married couples can file taxes jointly, which can lead to various tax benefits not available to single filers.
  • Government Benefits: Spouses are often eligible for government benefits, including Social Security, disability benefits, and military benefits, based on their partner’s record.
  • Family Leave: Married individuals are typically entitled to take family leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for an ill spouse or for maternity/paternity leave.

two people with the Rights of Unmarried Couples Living Together in Texas

Without taking deliberate steps as an unmarried couple, you won’t be able to benefit from these rights that married people enjoy. However, entering a common law marriage or signing a cohabitation agreement can help ensure that both you and your partner are protected.

How to Protect Your Rights as Unmarried Couples Living in Texas

Now, let’s take a look at the steps you can take to make sure your rights are protected as a part of an unmarried couple who is living under the same roof.

Consider Establishing a Common Law Marriage

One of the things you can do if you and your partner intend to be together forever but don’t want to formally get married is establish a common law marriage.

two people with the Rights of Unmarried Couples Living Together in Texas

Unmarried couples in Texas can be considered legally married under common law if they present themselves as married to others, live together, and agree that they are married. This status grants them the same legal rights as traditionally married couples, including property rights and spousal support upon separation, but requires a formal divorce to dissolve.

Craft and Sign Cohabitation Agreements

If you don’t like the sound of a common-law marriage, you might consider crafting a cohabitation agreement.

two people with the Rights of Unmarried Couples Living Together in Texas

Similar to a prenuptial agreement, a cohabitation agreement allows unmarried couples to outline the management of financial affairs and property during the relationship and in the event it ends. This can include the division of property and debts, but it cannot legally address child custody or child support.

Document Property Ownership

When purchasing property together, such as a home or car, ensure that both names are on the title or deed if the intention is joint ownership. If one person provides the payment for a significant purchase, documenting this arrangement in writing can prevent disputes if the relationship ends.

Estate Planning

Consider creating wills or estate plans to ensure that property is distributed according to your wishes upon death. Without such legal documents, the surviving partner may not automatically inherit property or assets as they would in a legal marriage.

two people with the Rights of Unmarried Couples Living Together in Texas

This type of thing can be a real nightmare for people. You can be with someone for decades and then have to fight for what seems to obviously be yours when your partner passes away. Having a clear plan for what happens in the event of either of your deaths will ensure that neither of you is battling with complex probate issues, all while grieving the loss of your life partner.

Establish Paternity

For couples with children, it is essential to establish paternity if the parents are unmarried legally.

This ensures the non-birth parent has legal rights and responsibilities regarding the child. Paternity can be established through an Acknowledgement of Paternity form or through court proceedings if necessary.

Consider Consulting an Attorney

Legal advice is crucial, especially when drafting cohabitation agreements or estate plans. An attorney can provide guidance tailored to your specific circumstances and help ensure that all legal documents are correctly executed and enforceable.

two people with the Rights of Unmarried Couples Living Together in Texas

The truth is the legal framework is pretty complex. Though it costs money to work with a lawyer, being thoughtful in this way up front can actually end up saving you a ton of money in the long run.

Are There Any Benefits For a Couple to Remain Unmarried in Texas?

There are lots of different reasons that a couple might choose to remain unmarried in Texas. This might have to do with their personal beliefs, financial considerations, or a desire to avoid legal complexity, to name a few.

Everyone’s circumstances are different, though. For some people, there might be explicit benefits to remaining unmarried. Here are some of the potential advantages of living together without tying the knot.

Financial Independence

Staying unmarried can allow individuals to maintain separate financial identities.

This can be beneficial in managing debt, credit, and investments individually, without the legal entanglements that marriage can introduce, such as shared liability for debts.

Tax Benefits

Usually, you hear people talking about the fact that getting married is far superior to remaining un-hitched from a tax standpoint.

In some cases, however, remaining unmarried may be financially advantageous from a tax perspective. For example, if one partner has significant medical expenses or business losses, staying unmarried might allow them to claim deductions or credits that would not be as beneficial if their income were combined with a spouse's through marriage.

Benefits Eligibility

Some individuals may receive more benefits if they are single, such as Social Security or disability benefits, especially if one partner has a lower income or fewer assets than the other.

This is definitely not always the case, though. You’ll want to dig in and look at how you will be affected by marriage in terms of benefits before making a decision based on this factor alone.

Simplifying Splitting Up

Unmarried couples can separate without the need for a legal divorce, which can simplify the process and reduce the costs and complexities associated with legally dissolving a marriage.

At the same time, it’s important to think about just how entangled two lives can become when living together for potentially years. Though splitting up can be legally simpler without getting married, it can mean you have to battle over property without being supported by the legal system.

Steering Clear of the “Marriage Penalty”

In certain situations, married couples end up paying more in taxes when their combined incomes push them into a higher tax bracket.

Remaining unmarried can help avoid this scenario, potentially resulting in lower overall tax liabilities. That being said, tax benefits are often one of the reasons that people are encouraged to get married if they know they will stay together for the long haul.

Allowing For Flexibility in Estate Planning

Unmarried couples might find it easier to structure their estate plans in a way that benefits other family members or heirs. When you go this route, there aren’t the same obligatory considerations required by spousal inheritance laws.

Navigating Family Law in Texas

Understanding the rights of unmarried couples living together in Texas is crucial if you want to make sure your property and financial interests are protected. While remaining unmarried can reduce legal complexity in the case of a divorce, it also means that you don’t enjoy the same rights as married couples when the relationship comes to an end.

Unmarried couples might choose to enter a common law marriage or create a cohabitation agreement if they are motivated to protect their rights and financial interests. In both instances, it’s a good idea to talk to an experienced family law attorney.

Are you searching for more resources about marriage, divorce, and 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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