Cohabitation in Texas

While the Texas legislature has not enacted any provision in the family code for a cohabitation agreement, the feeling in the legal community is that agreements are valid and can be upheld to the court.  In general, courts like parties to make clear agreements and spell out their rights.  Cohabitation agreements are important in Texas because of the concept of common law marriage.  Texas law states that if a man and woman agree to be married and, after the agreement, they live in Texas as husband and wife and represent themselves as common law married, they are in fact common law married.  A common law marriage is valid in Texas as a ceremonial marriage that has been performed by a minister.

Problems commonly arise when a man and woman live together and other people think they are husband and wife.  They occasionally check into a hotel as husband and wife or join a gym due to commonly extended retail discounts.  Perception becomes reality, so to speak. Issues arise when the relationship frays and it becomes necessary to enter into divorce proceedings. One of the two parties might believe that what they thought was their property is actually classified under Texas law as community property.

This is why you need a cohabitation agreement. A cohabitation agreement is a marital contract that is entered into by two people who are in a long term relationship and live together.  This agreement specifies how income, property and debt will be divided if the relationship should end.  Additionally, a cohabitation agreement can specify what/if any form of spousal support is expected to be paid and the amount of support and the duration of support payments in the event of a separation or divorce.  Another common feature of cohabitation involves life insurance policies to protect the person who is financially dependent on the other.

Generally speaking, under Texas law, unmarried cohabitants do not get to enjoy the same rights as married couples, particularly with the respect to property acquired during the relationship.  Marital property laws do not apply to unmarried couples, even those are in long term relationships.  The characterization of property acquired by unmarried cohabitants is less clear than married couples whose property is governed by marriage laws.  Some of the property acquired by unmarried couples can be owned jointly, but it may difficult to divide such property when the relationship comes to an end.  There is no financial obligation attached to a couple who cohabits absent a clear written agreement.  If the relationship ends, and there is no cohabitation agreement in place, the aftermath as both parties engage in a veritable free-for-all can be worse than the reasons for the breakup in the first place!

If you’re cohabiting in Texas, you need to consider the ramifications of your relationship, especially in the event of a breakup. It’s time to consult with a premier Houston divorce and family lawyer, Lacy Lafour and her team at LaFour Law.  To reach them today, visit www.lafourlaw.com or call 713.223.7700.

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