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Briefcase: Common Law Marriage

Guest, Professor Thomas Oldham


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Many couples are confused about what a common law marriage is, and how it becomes legal. Professor Thomas Oldham with the University of Houston Law Center specializes in family law, and explained how Texas deals with common law marriage.

"The basic test in Texas for whether parties have a common law marriage is whether the court found the parties agreed to be married and have a reputation in the community as a married couple," he said. "In determining this, courts look to whether your friends, co-workers and family members thought you were married. They may also look to things such as whether the couple used the same surname or filed income tax returns as a married couple. If parties want to clarify whether they have a common law marriage, they could sign a written agreement stating whether or not they believe they are married."

Professor Oldham also said the length of time is irrelevant to have a legal common law marriage. "There is no minimum length of time required for a couple to live together," he continued. "In fact, of the 10 states currently accepting common law marriage, none of them requires a minimum duration of cohabitation, to establish a common law marriage."