How to Avoid an Accidental Common-Law Marriage

Did you know that it’s possible to be accidentally trapped in a common-law marriage? Surely, a lot of people marry for many reasons. Some marry for love, some for financial security and some even get married just because a baby is on the way. There are a lot of circumstances that could push people into a marriage. Sometimes, people even get married without knowing it, and without the slightest intention of doing so.

How can you be married without even knowing that you are? This is where common-law marriage comes into the picture. As it is a marriage that is considered informal, the formalities and traditions are kicked out into the curb in this type of marriage. You can be in a common-law marriage without a proposal, without a ceremony or exchange of vows and even without knowledge of it. It can really come as a shock when your partner suddenly insists that you are married and it turns out that you actually are.

What should you do when your girlfriend or boyfriend insists that you are married? It would be fine and even exciting when you’re looking to be married. However, if it’s not your intention, it’s another story. Marriage is not a laughing matter. It’s something that comes with heavy responsibilities and consequences. If you ever find yourself in this tricky situation, you will have no choice but to deal with it.

Essential Information You Need To Know About Common-Law Marriage in Texas

Basically, common-law marriage is an informal marriage that has very few requirements. You just need to agree to be married, live together as a married couple and carry yourself in public as a married couple. You don’t have to go through a ceremony or exchange vows in front of a judge or priest in order to be considered legally married as per common law.

Your agreement to the marriage does not have to be in writing. An oral agreement is also accepted by law. However, an agreement to be married sometime in the future does not count. The thing is, you can actually agree to be married without discussing it with your spouse. If you have been living together like a married couple and you carried yourselves as a married couple when out in public, it can be assumed that you have indeed agreed to be married.

If the Texas law requires an oral discussion and a written agreement before a union can be considered as a marriage as per common law, it would be more difficult to find yourself married by common law. However, the Texas courts say that if you have lived together and acted as a married couple in public, you don’t really need to have that ‘agree to get married’ requirement. This means that if you have lived with another person and the court has enough evidence to believe that you held yourselves as a married couple in public, the court can determine that you are common-law married.

What Common-Law Married Means

Living together as a married couple means that you pay bills together, make decisions as one and basically do everything that married couples do. If the court sees evidence that you consistently stay with the other person, you have a sexual relationship and your lives are entwined as one, they can conclude that you are indeed cohabitating.

As for the last requirement, telling other people that you are married would suffice. However, your action can also be taken into account. If you had referred to the other person as your spouse while you were living together, or if you are both involved in each other’s financial lives, the court can consider it as holding yourself as a married couple in public. If you have listed the other person as your beneficiary on insurance, or if you create a shared bank account with your names, this can be considered as evidence fulfilling the common-law marriage requirements.

An informal marriage basically begins when you fulfill the three requirements. You don’t need to secure a marriage license or any type of legal document for you to be married by common law. You might have to visit a courthouse though if you claim your marriage. If you want your common-law marriage to end, you will have to go through the traditional ways of ending a marriage. You can choose between a divorce or an annulment. Of course, your common-law marriage will also end upon the death of your ‘spouse’.

Although this type of marriage begins in a very informal manner, it has the same process and consequences as any other type of marriage. For instance, you might think that you are just temporarily living with your girlfriend, but she suddenly announces that she wants a divorce. If the court determines that you are married by common law, you will really have to go through the steps of a divorce, including property division!

Unintentional common-law marriage can be intimidating. If you are in this situation, we advise that you seek a family law attorney with enough experience to guide and help you through your unexpected dilemma.

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Mr. Hutton is a Divorce and Custody Lawyer based out of Round Rock, TX. His background is with child psychology at Arizona State University where he received a B.S. in 2006, and he continued this by working with the Children’s Right’s Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law where he received his J.D. in 2009. Throughout his practice, he has been a strong proponent of utilizing modern technology to improve his practice and the representation of his clients. He currently is the technology chair of CAFA of Travis County and is committed to improving and modernizing the practice of law in Texas. If you have any questions you can contact him at

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