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The differences between marriage and common-law marriage

On Behalf of | May 6, 2022 | Family Law

Contemporary long-term marital relationships in the U.S. are much different than they were decades ago when most state courts only recognized official, licensed marriages. However, Texas is one of the few states that does formally recognize the common-law relationship when the couple’s living arrangements have been established for a certain time period. This can present problems when a couple decides to divorce because Texas is one of the nine community property states.

Formal marriages

The first distinction of a licensed marriage is that the couple becomes one financial entity with each other having a co-ownership claim to the same property, including Social Security income eligibility and other retirement plans. This authorization subjects property division to the community property law in a divorce proceeding. The Internal Revenue Service recognizes this singular entity status as well. A formal marriage is one where the couple was issued a marriage license by the state that also authorizes having “legitimate” offspring who have inheritance rights on the couple’s property in the event of an untimely death.

Common-law marriage

Common-law marriage can essentially exist after a couple has lived together in cohabitation for a specific amount of time, which is usually two years at a minimum in states like Texas that do recognize common-law marriage status. The petitioning spouse much establish in court when the marriage actually began with respect to mutual habitation, which can be accomplished with certain types of documentation such as bank records for bills or tax payments on property. This can especially apply in real estate property distribution cases.

Just as in a formal marriage, it is important for any common-law spouse in Texas to prepare beforehand for filing for divorce in court. These cases can be complicated, and legal technicalities can often apply.