February 4, 2015

Did You or Did You Not Say “I Do”?

The recent tragedy surrounding Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late Whitney Houston and infamous Bobbi Brown, is nothing short of heart-breaking.  However, the rumored conflicting opinions between family members over Ms. Brown’s medical care has led to an important discovery – Bobbi Kristina Brown and Nick Gordon were never actually married.  Why does this matter?  Because as a spouse, you generally have certain rights, including the right to make medical decisions for your husband or wife when they are incapacitated.  The question now becomes were Ms. Brown and Mr. Gordon informally married, or in laymen’s terms, did they have a common law marriage?

I cannot speak to the laws in Georgia, where the couple resides.  But in Texas and pursuant to Title 1 of the Texas Family Code, a heterosexual couple has a common law marriage if they (1) have an agreement to be married, (2) live together in Texas as husband and wife, and (3) hold each other out to the public as husband and wife.  The agreement does not need to be formally written and can be a verbal agreement, but there must be proof that the parties intent was to be in a marital relationship.  Additionally, there is no minimum requirement of how long a couple must cohabitate, but there must be evidence that the couple resided as a married couple, which typically involves an intimate relationship.  The last requirement means that the couple should consistently and openly present themselves as husband and wife to others.  There can be no “secret” common law marriage, and presenting yourself as husband and wife to a selective few likely will not be enough to meet this requirement.

Marriage, whether formal or informal, carries certain rights and duties.  If you think you are in a common law marriage, make sure you meet the requirements above.  Otherwise, you may find yourself in a difficult situation in which you thought you had certain legal rights and in all actuality, you do not.  

***Family Legal Source is an informational blog on family law matters.  It is not intended as legal advice or as a substitute for legal counsel.  If you have a family law matter, please seek the advice of a licensed attorney.***


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