It is not difficult for a couple to get married in the state of Texas. Marriage license applicants must be at least 16 years old, but those under age 18 must produce a certified copy of their long-form birth certificate issued in the last ten years, and they must obtain judicial or parental consent. After a couple proves their identities, ages, and pays the fee for the marriage license, there is a 72-hour waiting period before a marriage ceremony may be conducted, although some exceptions are allowed, especially for military personnel. In Dallas County, the cost of a marriage license is $81, and it’s a comparable amount in adjacent jurisdictions.

Both partners must appear in person to obtain a Texas marriage license, which will expire if the marriage ceremony is not conducted within ninety days. Couples who complete a state-approved marriage education class receive a $60 discount on the cost of their marriage license. However, you probably will not be surprised to learn that thousands of couples in Texas have decided to skip the marriage license and the wedding ceremony entirely, and many of those couples now have what the law in this state recognizes as a common law marriage.

HOW IS A COMMON LAW MARRIAGE ESTABLISHED IN TEXAS?

In Texas, two partners establish a common law marriage by agreeing to live as a married couple and in fact living together as a married couple, and then by “holding themselves out” or presenting themselves to others as a married couple. Establishing bank accounts, renting residences, and signing credit applications as a married couple are ways that people “hold themselves out” as a married couple. Under Texas law, no one under the age of 18 can be considered a partner in a common law marriage, even if the person under 18 has parental consent to live with a partner in a marriage-like arrangement.

The phrase “common law marriage” is often used loosely and informally, especially in media and popular culture, but in Texas and fourteen other states, the term has a precise legal definition – which varies from state to state. In this state, a valid and legal common law marriage is the full legal equivalent of a traditional marriage with a marriage license and a ceremony. That’s important to know because if partners choose to dissolve a common law marriage in Texas, they will have to obtain a formal legal divorce.

If you are getting a divorce or considering a divorce in the Dallas-Fort Worth area – whether or not you were married with a license and a ceremony – it is imperative to have the advice and legal services of an experienced Dallas divorce attorney from the very beginning of the divorce process. A common law divorce can be just as acrimonious as any other divorce and even more legally complicated.

WHAT MAKES A COMMON LAW DIVORCE DIFFERENT?

What can make a common law divorce more complicated in Texas is that before you can divorce a common law spouse, you’ll have to prove that you were actually married. You may need a lawyer’s help. In Texas, it is the spouse who files the divorce papers who must prove that a legal marriage has existed.

In a no-fault divorce, no blame or fault has to be assigned to anyone. A no-fault divorce is granted in Texas when a marriage is deemed “insupportable due to conflict between the parties and that there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation.” If you make the choice to divorce, let a good Dallas divorce attorney discuss your circumstances and help you decide if you should seek a no-fault divorce or a divorce based on fault.

These are the residency requirements for a Texas divorce: One spouse must have resided in Texas for a minimum of six months immediately prior to filing for divorce, and that partner must reside in the county where the papers are filed for a minimum of ninety days immediately before filing. The partner who receives the papers (the “respondent”) has to submit a prompt response or that partner forfeits the right to contest any allegations in the divorce complaint.

WHAT IF COMMON LAW SPOUSES ARE ALSO PARENTS?

No divorce is ever easy for anyone, but divorce is always hardest on the children. When common law spouses became parents together during a common law marriage in Texas, child custody and child support issues will be a part of their divorce. When it’s possible, child custody and child support disputes should be resolved through mediation sessions or out-of-court negotiations. If partners cannot resolve a child custody or child support dispute on their own, a Texas judge will make those decisions.

Parents divorcing in Texas save time and money by developing their own child custody and child support agreements and visitation schedules. When one parent is ordered by a Texas court to pay child support, the order usually applies until the child either turns age 18 or graduates from high school (whichever happens last) or becomes an emancipated minor. If a child is disabled, child support payments could be ordered for an even longer period.

Sometimes, the point of dispute in a divorce is not children but property and assets. In most cases, without regard to whether it’s a ceremonial marriage or a common law marriage, what is deemed community property is property obtained during the marriage, and separate property is the property was acquired by inheritance, gift, or owned before the marriage began. Anyone divorcing in Texas must have an attorney who can ensure the fair and just division of property and assets in a divorce proceeding.

The decision to end a marriage is never easy – even if that marriage didn’t begin with a wedding ceremony and a marriage license. In a divorce in Texas, there can be plenty of exceptions to the rules and complications in the law. You must have an attorney with the experience and legal skills to represent you effectively and to ensure that your final divorce settlement is fair, just, and appropriate.