First comes love, then comes marriage… or does it?

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Kendra Rey

By Kendra Rey

Just what is your relationship with your Valentine?  In this month of l’amour, do you know if that person you are cozying up with is your spouse or just a close friend?  And what is the legal effect of that?  (Leave it to a lawyer to make “Love” something debatable!)

If you have gone through a ceremonial marriage with your significant other, then you know you have a wife or husband.  But what if you have not had that wedding?  There is a general misconception that if you live with someone for six, maybe seven, years, then you are common-law married.  That, my friends, is simply not the case.

The Texas Family Code says that a happy (or unhappy!) couple can be found to be married if they (1) agreed to be married, (2) lived together in Texas as a married couple [note the lack of any minimum time period here], and (3) told others that they were married.

And that’s it!  You’re married!

If the couple does this, they can go one step further and make the marriage more official by signing a Declaration of Informal Marriage and filing it in their County Courthouse.  That step, however, is not required.

What is the implication of being informally married?  Each party to the informal marriage has the same rights as any other formally married couple.  If one spouse dies, he or she inherits from the deceased spouse just like any other spouse.  Community property laws will apply to both spouses, and property acquired after the date of “marriage” is presumed to be owned 50/50 as community property.  All the laws of Texas accrue to the benefit of the new spouse.

But beware: there is no such thing as a common-law divorce.  Once you are informally married, the only way to end it is through death or divorce.  So be careful about what sweet nothings you whisper in your partner’s ear this Valentine’s Day – a romantic moment could end in a lifetime commitment.

Kendra is an Estate Planning and Probate Attorney at Hammerle Finley Law Firm.  Hammerle Finley Law Firm… Give us a call at 972-784-0293. We can help.

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