Texas is one of the few states that still recognizes “informal marriage,” also sometimes known as “common law marriage.” A party who petitions for divorce from an informal marriage often must prove the existence of the informal marriage in the first place. To prove there was an informal marriage, the party must show the couple had an agreement to be married, subsequently lived as spouses together in Texas, and represented themselves as married. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 2.401. Furthermore, all of these elements must occur at the same time. Evidence of an informal marriage may include evidence the parties addressed each other as spouses, conducted themselves as married people, or lived together. Evidence that the parties lived together and represented themselves as married is not alone sufficient to establish the existence of an agreement to be married.
In a recent case, an alleged husband challenged the court’s finding of the existence of an informal marriage. The parties moved to Texas from Colorado with the alleged wife’s two children in 1985. They separated in early 2012. In 2015, the alleged wife filed a trespass to try title suit, claiming joint ownership in real property due to an informal marriage. That lawsuit was consolidated with her subsequent divorce action.
The trial court ultimately found the parties had been in an informal marriage. The court granted a divorce and divided their property. The husband appealed, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support the existence of an informal marriage.