Why His Common Law Marriage Claims May Not Hold Up in Court
Last fall, Australian rapper Iggy Azalea’s ex-boyfriend filed for divorce in Texas, claiming that the two had entered into a common law marriage in 2008. Azalea has flatly denied the claim ever since, and recently won an injunction in a Los Angeles federal court to prevent Maurice Williams (aka, Enzo Weinberg and Hefe Wine) from releasing and profiting from music he allegedly stole from Azalea without her consent.
There Are 3 Key Requirements to Prove Common Law Marriage
While it’s true that Texas is one of the few states that honors common law marriages (known as informal marriage under Texas Family Code), proving one exists isn’t exactly a walk in the park – especially when the two parties involved disagree. “Williams needs to show the judge that his alleged union with Azalea meets the three requirements necessary for proving the existence of an informal marriage in Texas,” says Connatser Family Law Attorney Abby Gregory.
“He needs to prove in court that the two agreed to be married, they did so while living in the state of Texas and they both held out to the public they were husband and wife while living in the state of Texas. The evidence also has to show that the parties intended to have a present and permanent marital relationship, and neither party can be under the age of 18,” Abby explains.
Judges Weigh Circumstantial Evidence and Witness Testimony
The challenge for complainants such as Williams can be convincing a judge that their claims are true. According to Abby, “It really comes down to being a fact-finding issue. All sorts of circumstantial evidence can be introduced to the judge who will determine if in fact a common law marriage does exist.
In common law marriage disputes, the judge will consider carefully the couple’s reputation among their peers and the public. “For example, if you go to family events or a child’s soccer game, and refer to each other as ‘my husband’ or ‘my wife,’ and the community believes you are married, that may work in favor of the party trying to prove the informal marriage exists,” Abby says.
Iggy’s Million$ Could be Subject to Texas Community Property Statutes
Considering Texas is also a community property state – where all property, assets and debts are split 50/50 from date of marriage to date of divorce – the rap superstar has millions to lose and Williams has millions to gain should a judge find the two are common law married. (Consequently, any potential witnesses with close ties to Williams could potentially benefit too.)
“The marital estate, which is subject to division under Texas community property statutes, is essentially the same as if you had a ceremonial marriage. If the judge decides that Azalea and Williams are common law married, he will have rights to her music. However, the timing of their break-up could be key to the outcome of this case,” says Abby.
Timing Will Likely Be a Big Factor in the Azalea vs. Williams Case
There are many misconceptions about common law marriage in Texas and elsewhere. Abby finds, “Most people think there is a timeline that exists, where you lived together for a certain period of time (the common presumption is two years) that automatically means you are common law married. However, there is no period of time that constitutes informal marriage according to the Texas Family Code.”
Where Williams may have problems is proving he and Azalea were in a relationship recent enough to make his claims stick. “This will be critical to proving his case. In Texas, if you break up and cease to live together, and don’t commence to either file a pleading with the court to establish an informal marriage exists or take steps to secure a formal dissolution of the marriage within two years, then there is a rebuttable presumption that the two parties didn’t enter into an agreement to be married,” Abby explains.
In a series of Tweets on October 17 of last year, Azalea claims she has “avoided Texas entirely for the last five years,” and travels with bodyguards. Along with disavowing she had been in a relationship with Williams in well over the two years required to support a common law marriage claim, her Tweets appear to insinuate that she is fearful of Williams, especially after he was charged with assaulting another ex-girlfriend last fall.
Ive avoided texas entirely for the last 5 years. when i do go now i have a police escort & two armed bodyguards, evidently for good reason.
— IGGY AZALEA (@IGGYAZALEA) October 17, 2014
Where the trial occurs and which judge hears the case can also have bearing on the outcome of a common law marriage determination. For example, “How judges rule in Dallas County is often different than Denton County, which is more conservative. If you bring children into the equation (not the case with Azalea and Williams), then a more conservative judge or jury may be inclined to legitimize the parent’s relationship for the sake of the kids,” Abby explains.
How to Avoid Common Law Marriage and Divorce Disputes in Texas
According to Abby, “In Texas, couples who want to formalize a common law marriage should file a declaration and register the informal marriage with their County Clerk’s office. Once the informal marriage is officially registered, it is viewed the same as a ceremonial marriage in the eyes of the law. Consequently, if you want to split up later, you will need to file for divorce and divide property.”
On the other hand, if you want to ensure that your relationship remains defined as “living together” vs. common law married, get a cohabitation agreement that clarifies this fact. Read this earlier post for more details: Unmarried and Living Together? Why a Cohabitation Agreement Is a Must.
While no one can predict how the Azalea vs. Williams dispute will be resolved, people who think proving common law marriage in Texas is a slam-dunk should think twice. Texas family court judges hear informal marriage cases regularly, and they don’t take them lightly.
Explains Abby, “At the end of the day, the Court will weigh evidence from both sides and closely scrutinize witness testimony. If you can’t persuade a judge or jury that the three key requirements for common law marriage have been met and establish you lived together in the past two years prior to the filing, the judge isn’t likely to rule in your favor.”
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