Briefcase: Common Law Marriage

Guest: Janet Heppard


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Marriage provides couples with legal protections that affect their life and property. Janet Heppard directs the Civil Law Clinic at The University of Houston Law Center and says that these protections extend to couples in common law marriages.

"Texas recognizes these unions," Professor Heppard said. "However, people at least 18 years old can only be considered common law married, known in Texas as an informal marriage, when they either register the marriage by completing and filing a form at their county clerk's office, or meet three requirements: an agreement to be married, living together in Texas, and representing to others that they are married."

Heppard also explained how common law marriages can be dissolved. "Only when the parties are granted a formal divorce through the courts," she said. "It is also presumed by the state, that a couple separated for two years – without filing for divorce – never had an agreement in the first place and, thus, were not common law married."

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