Texas Couples who live together for a significant amount of time often share a relationship that functions and appears like an official marriage. This is especially true when the couple has been raising children together. Texas law, like many U.S. jurisdictions, allows for an informal marriage (colloquially known as a “common-law” marriage) to be entered into for a couple to enjoy the privileges, obligations, and protections of marriage. The application of Texas’s informal marriage statute is not completely clear with regard to same-sex couples seeking spousal benefits, divorce, or custody determination by a state court. One member of a same-sex couple was recently denied an appeal for her divorce petition against her former partner, as the Texas court ruled that the requirements for an informal marriage were not met in this case.
The plaintiff in the recently decided case is a woman who was in a relationship with the defendant for approximately 8 years. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the defendant gave birth to two children throughout the parties’ relationship, and the couple raised the children together as a family unit. After the couple broke up, the plaintiff sued the defendant for divorce, alleging the parties had a valid informal marriage and seeking a division of property, as well as shared custody of the children. The district judge dismissed the plaintiff’s petition, finding that the parties were not married and she had no standing to sue the defendant.
Texas law allows for a valid informal marriage under two sets of circumstances. First, a couple can file a declaration with the county clerk of the county of their residence, stating that they intend to enter into an informal marriage. Second, an informal marriage can be established if (1) the couple agreed to be married; (2) after the agreement, they lived together in Texas as husband and wife; and (3) in Texas, they represented to others that they were married. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that there was evidence to support all three of the second set of factors for establishing an informal marriage.