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What is common law marriage?

If you currently live with someone in Texas, it may surprise you to discover that the two of you could be legally married even though you never had a wedding ceremony or got a marriage license. The reason for this is that Texas is one of the 16 states that recognizes common law marriage.

Per marriage.org, the doctrine of common law marriage dates back to the common law of England. Under this doctrine, a consenting couple can, under certain circumstances, establish their own legal marriage without benefit of the state or any religion.

Common law marriage requirements

Your common law marriage has nothing to do with the length of time you and your partner have lived together. It does, however, have everything to do with the following:

  • Have you declared yourselves married to your families, friends, coworkers, etc.?
  • Do you call each each “my husband” and “my wife”?
  • Do you file joint income tax returns?
  • Do you use the same last name?

If the two of you do or have done any of the above, Texas law considers that you are a married couple.

Surprisingly enough, if you are the woman in this relationship, you need not use your husband’s last name to establish your common law marriage. You can continue to use your legal name on such things as your driver’s license, your Social Security card, your voter registration card, your credit card accounts, etc. Many women in common law marriages use their own last name when it comes to legal documents and their husband’s last name when it comes to social situations.

Once you establish your common law marriage in Texas, all other states must likewise acknowledge it, even if they themselves do not recognize common law marriage. This is educational information only and not intended to provide legal advice.

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