ILLUSTRATION BY RICKY FERRER

Common Law Marriage

Do you actually have to say, "I do" to be married in Texas?

Whether your dream wedding takes place in a pristine chapel or a stodgy courthouse, there’s always one thing in common: someone – be it a religious leader or a government official – presiding over the ceremony who holds the power to pronounce you man and wife.

But in states where common-law marriage is still recognized, even that guy is optional. Common-law marriage is an old principle that has slowly been struck from the ledgers of most states across the country. Texas, however, is among the handful of holdouts that still allows its citizens to enter into a legally binding marriage without having to go through a licensing process and a formal ceremony.

That’s not to say you can simply pronounce you and your significant other as common-law married and expect it to hold up in a courtroom. In fact, the Texas Family Code details the three elements that a couple must meet in order to establish a common-law marriage (also called “informal marriage”) in this state.

First, the couple must agree to be married. This is as simple as it sounds – just talk it over with mate, and come to an understanding. The agreement doesn’t even have to be in writing. In fact, courts will often look to proof of the second and third elements as evidence that an agreement to marry exists.

The second requirement is that the couple must live together as husband and wife. There’s no minimum amount of time needed to meet this standard, but the couple must show that they shared a common abode and spent as much time as feasible living in the home with each other.

Finally, the couple must hold themselves out as married to the public within the state. This can be done by introducing yourselves as married to family, friends, and acquaintances; by representing yourselves as married on contracts and other documents; or by some combination of the two.

Once all three of these elements are met simultaneously, you are married in the eyes of Texas. And if you decide to split up at any point, you’ll need to go through the normal channels of divorce in order to divide shared property, assign child custody/support, and dissolve your marriage so that all future marriages won’t be at risk of being declared void.

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