DEAR JEFF: I have a relative who lived with a woman for a number of years, and they have kids together. They broke up, and now he is engaged to another woman. Does he need to get divorced before he can marry her? Is he common law married? Thanks, “Want To Do It Right”

Dear “Do It Right”: Well, the easy answer is ... maybe. A common law marriage in Texas is an informal marriage that exists without the traditional formalities of getting married in a church or at the courthouse.

Many people believe it is dependent on how long a couple has been together, or whether they have kids. That is not true. A couple that has lived together for ten years may not be married, while a couple that has lived together 10 days may be married.

The requirements for the existence of a common law marriage are that the couple was at least 18 years old when the marriage began, they “agreed” to be married, thereafter lived together as husband and wife, and represented to others that they were, in fact, married.

There are a variety of factors to look to in determining whether a couple represented themselves as married to other; such as the filing of joint tax returns, signing leases as spouses, using the same last name, making the other person the beneficiary of a life insurance policy or introducing the other person as your spouse.

If these elements exist in the case of your relative, then he needs to obtain a formal divorce prior to marrying his new girlfriend. If the elements do not exist, then he is free to get married now.

DEAR JEFF: I sold my interest in a corporation, but am now being sued for a debt of the corporation. I had signed a personal guaranty of that debt, but assumed that ended when I sold my shares. Could I be responsible? Thanks, “Thought I Was Done”

Dear “Thought I Was Done”: Yes, you could be responsible. The signing of the personal guaranty is not affected by your subsequent selling of your interest in the business.


Jeffrey Bates is licensed to practice law in the State of Texas, but is not board certified in any area of specialty by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

This column is meant for general information and educational purposes only, and neither this column nor the transmittal of a legal question via email constitutes the creation of an attorney/client relationship between the reader and Jeffrey Bates and/or Southern Newspapers Inc. For specific advice regarding legal matters affecting you, consult an attorney.

To submit a question, send it via email to, or via regular mail to Ask the Lawyer, 101 S. First St., Lufkin 75901, or call 639-2900.