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Am I Married?

If you think you are, then you probably are. But the answer to the question am I married can be more complicated than that. Did you have a wedding ceremony? If not, did you and your spouse have an agreement to get married? Generally speaking, in Texas, people are legally married if they enter into an agreement to be married and make some attempt to evidence that agreement. This is usually done by having a wedding ceremony but in some instances, people skip the ceremony but are still considered married.

A Real-Life Example

John and Lisa were high school sweethearts. They grew up in Katy, Texas. On their graduation night, John gave Lisa a promise ring. They were madly in love but their parents wanted them to attend and graduate college before they married, so they did.

John went to college upstate while Lisa attended a college near their home town. While they were in college, Lisa and John dated other people. Once they graduated, they moved back home and they ran back into each other.

They have been dating for three years now. Lisa still has her promise ring that John gave her all those years ago. They agree that Lisa will wear the ring as a symbol of her commitment to their relationship. Are John and Lisa married? Probably not. We will talk about what makes a valid marriage in Texas further.

Does a Marriage Exist?

Let’s add some more facts to John and Lisa’s situation. Let’s say that Lisa and John started living together during their second year of dating post-college. At the end of last year, John asked Lisa to marry him and they agreed that she would wear the promise ring that he previously gave her. Last week, they applied for and secured a marriage license, and they had a church ceremony to follow. Are they married now?

The general answer would be yes. John and Lisa have a valid marriage. So what are the components of a valid marriage in Texas? The components of a valid ceremonial marriage in Texas generally include the following:

  • The parties must be two adults who have the capacity to consent to the marriage.
  • The agreement to marry must be in writing and signed by the parties.
  • The marriage ceremony must be performed by someone who is authorized to perform a marriage ceremony in Texas.

Statutory Definitions

According to the Texas Family Code, Sec. 1.108, a promise or agreement made on consideration of marriage or non-marital conjugal cohabitation is not enforceable unless the promise or agreement or a memorandum of the promise or agreement is in writing and signed by the person obligated by the promise or agreement.

Moreover, according to the Texas Family Code, Sec. 1.101, marriages are presumed to exist against claims of invalidity. Furthermore, pursuant to the Texas Family Code, Sec. 1.102, the law of this state applies to persons married elsewhere who are domiciled in this state. The most recent marriage is presumed to be valid.

So what happens if Lisa and John’s marriage ceremony was performed by someone who was not authorized to marry people in Texas? Would Lisa and John’s marriage be void? Probably not. However, the answer would depend upon the circumstances surrounding Lisa and John’s marriage. Let’s discuss what void marriages are in Texas.

Void Marriages

Generally speaking, void marriages are marriages that were never valid from their inception. This usually occurs when someone marries a relative within the third degree of consanguinity. It can also occur if someone marries a child younger than 16. Void marriages can also take place when someone who is currently married, attempts to marry another person. This act is commonly referred to as bigamy.

Statutory Definitions

Texas courts have previously explained what void marriages are:

“A marriage is void if entered into when either party has an existing marriage to another person that has not been dissolved by legal action or terminated by the death of the other spouse.”

Relationships derived from void marriages are generally considered putative or meretricious. The Texas Family Code’s mandate that the trial court shall order a just a right division of property in a decree of divorce or annulment also applies to putative marriages. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 7.001. With respect to meretricious relationships, each party is entitled to the property acquired during the relationship in proportion to the value that his or her labor contributed to its acquisition.” Hovious v. Hovious, No. 2-04-169-CV, 2005 Tex. App. LEXIS 1868, at *2 (App. Mar. 10, 2005)

Moreover, according to the Texas Family Code, Sec. 6.201, a marriage is void if one party to the marriage is related (within the third degree of consanguinity) to the other as:

1. an ancestor or descendant, by blood or adoption;

2. a brother or sister, of the whole or half blood or by adoption;

3. a parent’s brother or sister, of the whole or half blood or by adoption; or

4. a son or daughter of a brother or sister, of the whole or half blood or by adoption.

5. a marriage is void if either party to the marriage is younger than 16 years of age, unless a court order has been obtained.

Case Law

For an example of how this plays out in real life, see Hovious v. Hovious, No. 2-04-169-CV, 2005 Tex. App. LEXIS 1868, at *2 (App. Mar. 10, 2005) [Where a court properly declared plaintiff’s second marriage void when there was evidence that she and her first husband were married, a circuit judge performed the marriage ceremony, and the registrar signed the license; evidence was also introduced that plaintiff’s subsequent Mexican divorce decree was illegitimate.]

Voidable Marriages

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Voidable marriages are marriages that were seemingly valid to begin with. However, the foundation from which the marriage was entered into was either unlawful or morally unconscionable.

In Texas, a voidable marriage is commonly referred to as a marriage that can be annulled. Keeping John and Lisa in mind, let’s say that the only reason that they got married was because John promised to give Lisa money to take care of her ailing parents. Once they were married, John did not make good on his promise. John and Lisa never lived together. Can John and Lisa get an annulment? Maybe so. It would really depend upon the circumstances that were present prior to John and Lisa marrying.

Statutory Definitions

According to the Texas Family Code Chapter 6, parties can seek an annulment if any one of the following is present:

1. a person 16 years of age or older but under 18 years of age that occurred without parental consent or without a court order.

2. if at the time of the marriage the petitioner was under the influence of alcoholic beverages or narcotics and as a result did not have the capacity to consent to the marriage; and the petitioner has not voluntarily cohabited with the other party to the marriage since the effects of the alcoholic beverages or narcotics ended.

3. if either party, for physical or mental reasons, was permanently impotent at the time of the marriage; the petitioner did not know of the impotency at the time of the marriage; and the petitioner has not voluntarily cohabited with the other party since learning of the impotency

4. if the other party used fraud, duress, or force to induce the petitioner to enter into the marriage; and the petitioner has not voluntarily cohabited with the other party since learning of the fraud or since being released from the duress or force.

5. if the marriage ceremony took place in violation of Section 2.204 during the 72-hour period immediately following the issuance of the marriage license.

6. if the other party was divorced from a third party within the 30-day period preceding the date of the marriage ceremony; at the time of the marriage ceremony the petitioner did not know, and a reasonably prudent person would not have known, of the divorce; and since the petitioner discovered or a reasonably prudent person would have discovered the fact of the divorce, the petitioner has not voluntarily cohabited with the other party.

7. if the marriage ceremony took place in violation of Section 2.204 during the 72-hour period immediately following the issuance of the marriage license.

Case Law

For an example of how this works in real life, see Villarreal v. Villarreal, No. 09-09-00319-CV, 2010 Tex. App. LEXIS 5734 (App. July 22, 2010) [ Where a trial court properly annulled a marriage because of fraudulent inducement, pursuant to Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.107 where it could reasonably have found that the wife, who was not a United States citizen, had always intended to leave the husband after obtaining his property and establishing her right to remain in the country.]

Summary

In Texas, a valid marriage exists when two consenting adults agree to marry, secure a marriage license and participate in some sort of ceremony to evidence their intent to marry. Voidable marriages are marriages that are seemingly valid when they were entered into. If you would like to seek an annulment, you should contact a licensed family law attorney. You may be able to do it on your own, but there are certain nuances that you may need assistance with.

Disclaimer

The information provided above is not intended to be legal advice nor a substitute for the counsel of an attorney. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Walters Gilbreath, PLLC. You should seek legal advice from a licensed attorney to discuss the details of your circumstances.

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