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Is a divorce needed to end an informal marriage in Texas?

Marriage as an institution is undergoing some significant changes. Much of the focus these days centers on the issue of same-sex marriage. That's to be expected what with the U.S. Supreme Court decision last month declaring that the nation must recognize the legality of those unions.

But there is another form of marriage that is legal in Texas that may be unfamiliar to many. It is called informal marriage. In other states it is often referred to as common law marriage. Texas is one of only 10 states and the District of Columbia where this form of marriage is recognized.

As the name implies, it doesn't require a formal ceremony to enter into this kind of marriage. Rules vary by state, but there are some common requirements. Both parties have to be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. Both must have the intention to be married and they must present themselves in public as being a married couple.

They generally have to have lived together for a specified period of time. And Texas Law also requires that the couple take the minimal formal step of recording their situation with the bureau of vital statistics in their county of residence.

Oh, and there's another requirement of note. Neither of the two parties can already be married to someone else. By implication what that means is that if either was ever married, whether by formal means or informal, they have to be able to show proof of a divorce settlement before entering into any new union.

What that means by extension is that if a common law or informal marriage ends, the couple remains married until a court issues a divorce declaration or one of the parties dies.

So, common law marriage is legal. But because it is recognized in only a limited number of states, it can present some challenges when it comes to exercising rights, such as claiming an inheritance, insurance benefits, Social Security or other retirement benefits. And where questions exist, contacting an experienced family law attorney is the way to get answers.

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