How do I prove a common law marriage exists?

How do I prove that I am in a common law marriage?

Texas is a state that recognizes common law/informal marriages but certain elements must be met to prove that a common law marriage between a man and woman exists. Section 2.4019(a)(2) of the Texas Family Code establishes these elements. If a person wants to prove that an informal marriage existed, he or she must be able to prove each of the following. First, it must be established that both persons have made an agreement to be married. After this agreement has been made, during the time that the informal marriage is alleged, both persons must live together in Texas, as husband and wife. While living together it must also be shown that both persons represented to others in the community that they are husband and wife.

In a Texas First District Court of Appeals case, Miller v. Prince, Miller was unable to establish that she and Prince had a common law marriage because she did not live with Prince during the relevant times of the alleged common law marriage. During the course of the relationship, Miller moved to California and then returned to Texas in 1994. When Miller returned to Texas in 1994, she did not live with Prince and therefore was unable to meet that element needed for a common law marriage to be established. A person must be able to prove all of the listed elements when trying to establish a common law marriage. Because Miller and Prince did not live together at the relevant times the court found there to be no common law marriage. Even if Miller had been able to offer some proof to the other elements of common law marriage, it still would not have been granted because all criteria must be met.

What happens if the person I am alleging a common law marriage with marries someone else?

            The Texas Family Code in Section 2.401(d) explains that if someone is trying to prove an informal marriage neither party can be presently married to an outside third party. If either party is legally married to someone else, courts will not allow for you to establish an informal marriage to a different person.

During the time that Miller had moved back to Texas, a couple of months later, Prince married a different woman. “When a person alleges two marriages, courts will consider the most recent marriage valid, unless a party from a previous marriage can prove the previous marriages’ validity.” In this situation, we know that Miller was unable to establish that the common law marriage was valid because she and Prince did not live together. Therefore, Prince could not be a party in Miller’s alleged common law marriage because he was ceremoniously married to another person.

How long do I have to prove an informal marriage existed?

            A party will have a certain amount of time that they can try and prove a common law marriage once the relationship ends. Before 1995 the law said that parties had one year from when the relationship ended to prove a common law marriage. The law now has changed and it is established in Section 2.401(b) of the Texas Family Code. Parties now have two years to prove an informal marriage. The clock on the two years will begin to run once the parties have separated and stopped living together. If the validity of the common law marriage is not brought before the court within two years, courts will then decide that the parties did not enter into an agreement to be married, and an informal marriage will not be recognized.

In Miller’s case the two parties stopped living together in April 1993. Miller only had one year to allege a common law marriage because the relationship ended before 1995. Had the relationship ended after 1995, Miller would have had two years to allege the common law marriage once they separated and stopped living together. In this case though, no matter which law applies, Miller did not bring her claim until 2011. Miller waited too long to try and establish her common law marriage to Prince and the court held that the statute of limitations barred her claim. Once the relationship ends, either party will have two years to bring their alleged common law marriage before the court.

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