Corrie O. Graff and Dan Saul Knight are ice dancers competing at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.  Graff and Knight have lived together for eight years in a North Dallas apartment adjacent to the Galleria, where they sneak onto the ice each night after the mall closes.   Besides competing together, the two have also been dating for almost 10 years.  After coming in a disappointing 22nd place (because Knight failed to properly execute a simple half twizzle), Graff said she is breaking up with Knight both professionally and personally and that she intends to find a new partner.  Knight is shocked by Graff’s statement and exclaims, “Break up?  I think you mean get divorced!”  Knight then tells Graff that since they have lived together for at least seven years in Texas, they have a common law marriage.  Is Knight correct?

Maybe.  Texas is one of a handful of states that recognize common law marriages.  A common law marriage makes you legally married the same as if you had been married in a church, had a wedding cake, exchanged rings and obtained a marriage license.  There is a common misperception that if a couple lives together for a certain length of time, they are common law married.  This is not true.  In order to have a common law marriage, three elements must be present.  First, you must agree to be married.  Second, you must hold yourselves out as husband and wife (e.g. represented to others that you were married to each other such as introducing your partner as “my husband” or filing joint income tax returns).  Finally, you must live together in Texas.  Depending on whether these elements are present will determine whether Graff and Knight can simply part ways or whether they need to get a divorce. 

Tilting the Scales in Your Favor:

If you become a male ice dancer, as hard as it may be, try to refrain from wearing a bedazzled outfit with pink tassles.  And, if you live in a state that recognizes common law marriages and you don’t want your relationship to become a common law marriage, you should be clear in your intention that you are not married and preferably sign an agreement to that effect.