In In re Interest of JJFR, a man appealed from the denial of his motion for summary judgment, arguing there was insufficient evidence to prove his partner and he had entered into an informal marriage. In Texas, an informal (or common law) marriage under Texas Family Code §2.401(a)(2) can be proven by using evidence that a man and woman agreed to be married and after agreeing lived in Texas as husband and wife and told others they were married.
Informal marriages exist only if all three elements are present. Whoever wants to establish that there is an informal marriage needs to prove these elements by a preponderance of the evidence.
In the current case, the woman claimed there was an informal marriage and carried the burden of proof. The appellate court explained they could overturn an order on the ground of insufficient evidence only if the findings were so contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence they were obviously unfair and wrong.
The trial court had signed a divorce decree and dissolved the informal marriage, issuing a parenting plan, a division of marital property, and judgment in favor of the woman. The man had filed a motion for a new trial, claiming the woman hadn’t established an informal marriage. This motion was granted, and a trial was held. None of the evidence from the earlier proceeding was brought into the new trial.
The appellate court explained that the evidence had to show the couple intended to have a present and permanent marital relationship and that the intent was to be husband and wife, not simply cohabiting temporarily. The woman testified they’d met when she was 18 and began living together while he was married to someone else, although she did not know that then. The man had asked her to marry him while she was expecting their first child and gave her both an engagement ring and a wedding ring. She presented photographs of herself holding their son and wearing the wedding band and testified that she was introduced to his family as his wife. They had a joint bank account.
After her son was born, the woman discovered that the man was already married. She didn’t know when the man divorced the other woman, but she believed that they had agreed to be married.
The man testified he’d married another woman years earlier and thought he filed for divorce in the same year the woman claimed he’d proposed, and he said that the divorce was final in 2003. He claimed he told the woman that his wife and he were getting divorced when the woman and he started dating. He claimed that he hadn’t bought her either ring she wore and that he’d never told anyone in the country they were married.
The court explained that the evidence turned on the credibility of the witnesses, which was the purview of the trial court. The evidence related to the agreement to be married was not so weak as to be obviously wrong and unfair.
The appellate court also explained that under Texas law, a marriage is void if either party is already married to someone else, and the first marriage has not been dissolved or terminated. The woman claimed that the divorce was finalized in 2000, while the man claimed the divorce was finalized in 2003. Therefore, the court began looking at whether there was enough evidence to support a finding that the man and the woman lived together and represented to others they were married after 2004. It found they lived together from 2004-2009.
The woman had a photograph from the retreat that she described as the man on his knees proposing to her with an upgraded diamond ring in connection with marriage counseling. She’d also described being added onto the tax returns by the bookkeeper and telling the police the man was her husband when filing a criminal complaint against him. The court found this was sufficient evidence to show they lived together as husband and wife and represented themselves as such. Although the evidence conflicted, the conflicts were based on witness credibility that was within the purview of the trial court. Accordingly, the court determined that the couple had entered into an informal marriage that was valid as of 2004.
However, the appellate court agreed with the husband that any property awarded to the wife based on a date before 2004 might have removed separate property from the husband. It sent the case back so that the trial court could make a new division of the marital property. The rest of the order was affirmed.
If you are considering divorce in connection with an informal marriage, contact the Texas attorneys at the McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.
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