I live in Texas and have been involved with a woman for over 15 years. We have lived together for the majority of that time (including now). I am aware that Texas is a common law state, and when it seemed convenient we have presented ourselves as married (that is, she would refer to me as “my husband” and vice-versa), though we have not officially married. Recently, I encountered financial difficulties (maybe 8 months ago), and then became unemployed a couple of months ago. I have not for much of that time been able to contribute to the bills or rent (at least not to the degree I always had). I did however pay all of the rent and the majority of the bills in the house where we have lived for the last 5 of 6 years. The house is in her name alone, as when we had it built her credit was by far superior to my own. We knew my name being on the loan would hinder or make getting the loan impossible.
The problem now is that she has had a change of heart about the relationship and says she wants me to leave “her” house. What I’d like to know is if I really have no rights in the matter, in particular to the house, in spite of having paid for it for so long. Any guidance you can provide would be greatly appreciated.
Common law marriage is tricky, but if it is established, it is as valid as a “normal” marriage. If one party claims a common law marriage, a court will consider multiple factors, including how you handled your finances, filed your taxes, referred to each other in public, etc. Things like changing a last name or holding a ceremony also weigh into the court’s determination. In short, the more you acted like you were married, and the more the public would reasonably assume you were married, the more likely a court would find that you were common law married.
There is no common law divorce. You would have to petition a court for a dissolution of marriage. In fact, this would probably be the best way to have a court determine whether you had a common law marriage in the first place. If you were common law married, a dissolution of marriage proceeding would commence under Texas laws, and the court would divide marital property according to those laws and the evidence before it. If a court determines you did not have a common law marriage, you cannot proceed with a divorce. Your only recourse would be to rely on actual or implied contracts between the two of you. The catch to this approach, however, is that none of the contracts can be based on a sexual relationship. For example, if the agreement was that you would pay half the mortgage because you were living in the house, the court may consider that to be a landlord-tenant agreement, and allow you the rights of a tenant. If, however, you paid into the mortgage merely because you were in a relationship with her, a court is unlikely to consider that an enforceable contract, and you wouldn’t have any rights.
This could become a very complicated situation, and a family law attorney can help provide you with advice as to your possible rights under Texas law and help guide you through the process.