Sometimes the situation arises when two people have lived together for an extended period, perhaps even 20+ years and then decide to separate, they may wonder what rights to property and children do I have? Am I common law married? The situation becomes even more troublesome when only one spouse is a bread winner and the other is the ever noble homemaker. This blog post will address the property issues that can arise when two people live together but aren't married or wait a long period of time to marry under Texas family law.
Texas is a community property state which means that all property that is not separate property and is acquired during the marriage belongs to both spouses. As you may have guessed there is such a thing as separate property in Texas family law and separate property is property that was acquired before marriage, by gift, inheritance, or certain personal injury awards excluding awards for lost wages. When I started practicing family law I had the opportunity to learn a thing or two, actually much more than that, from one of Houston's premier family law attorneys and he told me an interesting story that I won't soon forget. The story was about a man and a woman who were married and decided to separate, but never actually followed through with a divorce. Many years passed by and the lady had managed to build quite a life for herself, she acquired a nice house, various bank accounts, and several other notable items. As is the case with most people, and as would be expected, she met someone else and wanted to settle down with him and get married. This was about 20 years after she had separated from the first man and she still faced a problem when trying to marry the second man, Texas prohibits being married to more than one person at a time so in order to marry the second man she had to first obtain a divorce from the first. This was a huge issue for her because almost all of the property that she had collected over the years was acquired during the marriage to the first man, and during the divorce guess what the first man wanted. You may have guessed it, he wanted his share of the community property. Texas law is quite clear regarding community and separate property and this poor lady found that out the hard way. By waiting to get married you can work yourself into a situation that is opposite of what was just described, but certainly no less harmful to the well being of your pocket book.
Merely living together, even with children, doesn't automatically make you common law married. If you want to know more about the requirements for a common law marriage in Texas then you can click on the link below to learn more. Living together on its own doesn't trigger the creation of community property and even if you live together for many years it is possible that you will not be entitled to a divorce and therefore a division of community property. If you do marry during the time that you are together then community property doesn't start to accumulate until you actually marry. For example, if two people live together for 10 years and on the 11th year they get married then community property does not begin to add up until that 11th year and everything that was acquired in the first 10 years is separate property that was acquired before marriage. You can see some of the problems that this can present for people, especially for people who depend on their significant other for support. It really can end up creating a riches to rags scenario, and if you still don't believe me here is a short story illustrating what I am talking about.
I once had the opportunity to learn about a case where a young man met a young lady while she was a teenager. They became involved with one another and stayed together for almost 20 years before they finally decided to marry. During that time the young lady had quit school and over time relied on the man for almost everything. The man had a successful career and was quite the money maker. They were happy for a short time after marriage and then, as is often the case, the man met someone else, moved away and decided he wanted a divorce from his wife and long time companion. This story didn't end as well as it could have for the young lady if they had married sooner. During the divorce the young lady, who didn't qualify as common law married, was only entitled to the community property that was acquired during the short marriage and not the entirety of the relationship. This is a situation that you don't want to put yourself in, you don't need someone to tell you to be careful about who you marry, but you should be wary of entering into long term cohabitation relationships such as the one described above.
The foregoing post is not legal advice and each situation presents its own unique set of facts. If you have an issue you are facing regarding divorce, child custody, or another family law matter than feel free to contact my office for a free and confidential case evaluation.
Chad Zubi Houston Family and Criminal Law Attorney.