Wedding bells

June 3, 2014

June traditionally has been the month for brides. From the initial naming of the month (for Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage), to the fact that flowers in the northern hemisphere are at their freshest, to the more recent factor, namely that of starting a new life together following graduation, this month seems to be THE month for celebrating the start of new lives together. The peer and societal pressure to marry in the month of flowers, to go from the graduation ceremony to the alter, the “dream” all seem to conspire to push people to marriage.
The old proverb “marry in haste, repent in leisure” still holds true. Most of the attorneys and judges of my acquaintance have had experience helping these young people out of the bonds into which they so happily leapt. Sadly, most come out scared by the experience in some manner.
Ceremonial marriage in this state requires that the parties be at least eighteen years of age, unless the permission of a parent, guardian or judge is obtained. It also requires a license, obtainable from the County Clerk. The license application is designed to both aid the state in record keeping, and to help avoid illegal marriages. For instance, our law prohibits an individual marrying a person who is his or her ancestor or descendant by blood or adoption, brother or sister, whether half or whole, a parent’s brother or sister, or the son or daughter of a brother or sister. The application asks about these relationships for that reason. There is also a statement for each party to answer regarding delinquent child support. The license will not be withheld if the person is delinquent, but it can be a good thing for the other party to know! In most cases, the license may not be used for seventy-two hours after the Clerk issues it.
It is not uncommon for individuals in an unhappy relationship to request an annulment. For some reason, this seems preferable to a divorce. It is also much harder to obtain, as the circumstances must meet certain criteria. An annulment can (not will!) be granted if the seventy-two hour waiting period was violated, either party was intoxicated, under the influence of drugs, a victim of fraud, force, or duress, or is a mental incompetent. It can also be granted if either party was under eighteen years of age or is permanently impotent. Each of these requires that the party requesting the annulment cease cohabitating with his or her partner as soon as the problem is discovered, and he or she may not return. An annulment, like a divorce, requires an attorney and will be a hearing in court.
The most common “unnatural” ending for a marriage is divorce. This is the only legal separation of a married couple accepted in the State of Texas, including those couples considering themselves married under common law rather than ceremonially. Our law does not provide for a legal separation, trial separation, or anything of that nature. In the period between filing and finality, it is not uncommon for the Court to enter temporary orders. These may provide for the payment of child support, temporary spousal support, allow one party primary custody of the children and home, and settle other disputes for the moment.
Until an order is issued by a court, whether a restraining order, protective order, or decree of divorce, children belong to both of their parents. Either parent has the right to take the child from school, day care, or another placement, including the home, and go where they will, provided that the child is not endangered. It is not uncommon for a parent to call the courthouse, concerned that an estranged spouse or live in has threatened to take the child and vanish. Absent an order making one parent of the other custodial, this is next to impossible to prevent. Especially where children are involved, if the marriage relationship has ended, take the time to go through the system and obtain a divorce. In addition to the freedom to remarry, both parties will be given a clear understanding of their rights and responsibilities for the children.
Unlike ceremonial marriage, common law marriage is a matter of perception. If it appears that the two people have lived together and “held themselves out as married”, then a marriage exists and a divorce is necessary to sever the relationship. If everything is maintained separately except a lease on the residence, chances are that a court would determine that no marriage exists. Listing the names together on government documentation such as IRS paperwork, Social Security applications and so forth is nearly a guarantee that the couple will be determined to be married.
Common law divorce is a persistent myth in Texas law. The only divorce recognized is the same one obtained by couples married in the traditional manner. Many individuals requesting information about common law dissolution are rather discouraged with the discovery that an attorney and formal divorce proceedings will be necessary. While I am definitely in favor of couples staying together, a couple ready to split needs to take the formal steps.
As many of us can attest, marriage to the right person changes life for the better; if you are sure of your decision, and have taken the time to know what you are doing, I celebrate with you! Just remember, there is nothing magical about June; take your time, and remember that other months work as well!

Lisa Peterson is the County Attorney for Nolan County. Comments about this column may be e-mailed to editor@sweetwaterreporter.com.

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