What is Common Law Marriage in Texas? Find out now!

Common law marriage is a legally recognized marriage that takes place without obtaining a marriage license or having a wedding ceremony. It is established when a couple agrees to be married and presents themselves publicly as a married couple.

Texas recognizes common law marriages and has specific legal criteria that couples must meet for their marriage to be valid. It’s important for couples to understand how common law marriage works in Texas, since it confers all the rights and responsibilities of a formal marriage. This guide provides a comprehensive overview of common law marriage in Texas.

Definition of Common Law Marriage in Texas

Common law marriage, also known as informal marriage, is a form of legal marriage in Texas that does not require a marriage license or ceremony. The legal requirements are:

  • The couple agrees to be married
  • The couple live together in Texas as spouses
  • The couple represent to others that they are married

All three conditions must be fulfilled for a valid common law marriage in Texas. Simply living together or having a romantic relationship is not enough. The couple must intentionally agree to be married without formalities.

Legal Requirements for Common Law Marriage in Texas

For a common law marriage to be legally recognized in Texas, the following conditions must be met:

  • Agreement to Be Married: The couple must make a clear and bilateral agreement to be married. There is no need for witnesses or written contracts, but the agreement must be provable.
  • Cohabitation in Texas: The couple must live together in a marital relationship in the state of Texas. The duration of cohabitation is not defined.
  • Holding Out: The couple must present themselves to the public as married. This can include using the same last name, filing joint tax returns, or introducing each other as a spouse.

All three legal conditions must exist for a valid common law marriage. If any element is lacking, the marriage will not be legally binding in Texas.

The Difference Between Common Law Marriage and Formal Marriage in Texas

Common law marriage differs from formal or ceremonial marriage in several ways:

  • No marriage license is required for a common law marriage. Formal marriages require obtaining a state-issued marriage license.
  • There is no wedding ceremony for common law couples. Formal marriages involve an officiant performing a wedding service.
  • Common law marriages come into effect immediately when the couple agrees to be married. Formal marriages become valid only after the ceremony.

Despite these differences, common law marriages confer all the same legal rights and obligations as formal marriages in Texas. These include rights to community property, child custody and support, inheritance, insurance benefits, and more. The only difference is how the marriages originate.

Establishing a Common Law Marriage in Texas

When a couple wants to enter into a common law marriage in Texas, they can use the following steps:

  • Make a clear verbal or written agreement to be married. While witnesses are not required, having evidence of the agreement is recommended.
  • Begin cohabiting in Texas. Maintain a home and financial assets as a married couple would.
  • Tell others you are married. Introduce your partner socially as your spouse.
  • File legal documents as a married couple. Include tax returns, insurance forms, property deeds, etc.
  • File a Declaration of Informal Marriage with the county clerk. This officially documents the marriage.

Proving a common law marriage often relies on cohabitation evidence and reputation in the community. The more evidence of holding out as a married couple, the easier it is to establish the marriage later if needed.

Establishing a Common Law Marriage in Texas

Legal Implications of Common Law Marriage in Texas

Common law marriage confers all the legal rights and responsibilities of a formally licensed marriage. These include:

  • Community property – Assets acquired during the marriage are jointly owned.
  • Inheritance – A spouse can inherit property if their partner dies without a will.
  • Medical decisions – A spouse can make decisions if their partner is incapacitated.
  • Child custody and support – Children born during the marriage are legally recognized.
  • Taxes – Couples can file joint state and federal tax returns.
  • Insurance benefits – Spouses can be added to health insurance policies.
  • Debt liability – Spouses may be liable for any debts incurred during the marriage.
  • Alimony and division of assets – These legal standards apply if the common law marriage ends.

So while common law marriage originates informally, the legal implications are identical to formal marriage.

Dissolution of a Common Law Marriage in Texas

Common law marriages can only be terminated through legal divorce or death of a spouse. There is no informal process for dissolving a common law marriage in Texas.

The divorce process is the same as with a licensed marriage. Either spouse must petition the court for divorce and follow standard legal divorce proceedings.

The court will divide community property, determine child custody, arrange spousal support if applicable, and formally dissolve the common law marriage through a divorce decree. Without formal divorce proceedings, the couple remains legally married.

Common Misconceptions About Common Law Marriage in Texas

There are some frequent misunderstandings about common law marriage in Texas. To clarify:

  • Cohabiting for a long time does not automatically create a common law marriage. The couple must agree to be married.
  • There is no minimum duration of cohabitation required for a valid common law marriage.
  • Engagement to be married in the future does not equate to a common law marriage currently.
  • Having children together or sharing finances does not prove a common law marriage.
  • Referring to a partner as “husband” or “wife” on occasion does not meet the “holding out” requirement.
  • A temporary absence from Texas does not invalidate an existing common law marriage.

Common law marriage requires an agreement to be married in the present, not just romantic behaviors or future plans.

Case Studies and Examples

To illustrate common law marriage in practice, here are some examples:

  • James and Sara agreed to marry, lived together in Houston for 10 years, and filed joint tax returns. After James died, Sara inherited his property as his common law wife.
  • Mark and Jessica told family and friends they were married, but never officially tied the knot. When they split up after 8 years, Jessica took Mark to court for alimony as her common law husband.
  • Chris and Patricia considered themselves married but continued living in separate homes. Because they didn’t satisfy the cohabitation rule, they did not have a legal common law marriage.
  • Andrew and Felicia agreed to marry informally but broke up after six months of dating long distance. Since they never lived together in Texas, they did not establish a common law marriage.


Common law marriage is a legitimate form of legal marriage in Texas that confers all the rights and obligations of a traditionally formalized marriage. Couples who wish to avoid the formalities of licensure and ceremony can instead agree privately to be married and present themselves publicly as spouses. However, couples should still understand the legal implications involved when entering into a common law marriage. This guide provides a thorough legal overview of establishing and terminating a common law marriage in Texas.