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Marriage, Divorce & Children

contentsMarriage Laws
Parental Rights and Responsibilities
Abuse Hotlines and Community Outreach

Marriage Laws

When you and your spouse-to-be (the person you want to marry) are at least 18 years old, you can get married. If you are under 18, you can only get married if you are emancipated, meaning a judge has removed your “disabilities of minority,” which makes you an adult for legal purposes, including making your own decisions and supporting yourself. It is not easy to obtain an emancipation court order.

Effect of Marriage

Marriage is a serious commitment with important emotional and legal consequences. While the emotional issues are beyond this guide, you should certainly discuss your marriage plans with a trusted adult. Many churches also offer free counseling for couples planning to get married. Generally, the counseling tries to help you succeed in marriage by planning things with your future spouse ahead of time—getting you both to think and talk about topics ranging from money to children to in-laws before they can cause problems. On the legal side, marriage creates a contract between a couple. A marriage can only legally end by getting a divorce.

How to Marry

There are two ways to get married in Texas—through a ceremony and by “common law” marriage.

Marriage by Ceremony

To have a marriage by ceremony, you and your future spouse need to get a marriage license and then be married by an authorized official in a ceremony.

  • The county clerk’s office gives out marriage licenses. You and your future spouse will need to show proper identification and pay a fee. You must get the license between three and thirty days before your ceremony.
  • Any authorized  person may  perform  the ceremony.  Authorized  persons  include judges,  some other government officials and many clergymen.

Common Law (Informal) Marriage

A legal marriage between a couple can be created in Texas simply by:

  • Agreeing with each other to be married,
  • Living together as a married couple in Texas, and
  • Telling others that they are mar

You can also fill out a “Declaration of Informal Marriage” at the county clerk’s office to create proof of your common law marriage. Don’t list yourself as married on an income tax return unless both you and your partner agree you are married for all purposes. A common law marriage has the same effect and consequences as a marriage by ceremony. If you are under the age of 18, you can’t have a common law marriage.


A marriage by ceremony or a common law marriage can only be legally ended by divorce. A divorce is a legal process that involves a judge. As part of the divorce, the judge will divide up any property that the two of you own, divide any bills or loans that are owed, set amounts that one spouse must pay to the other spouse after the divorce for support (often called “alimony” or, in Texas, “spousal maintenance”), and determine what rights parents have about children of the marriage including custody, visitation and child support. Texas Law Help,, has information about family law and free legal assistance in your area.

Parental Rights and Responsibilities

If you are a parent, you have the responsibility to provide support for your children until they are adults even if they live with somebody else. You cannot abuse or neglect your children and must protect them from harm. If there are any questions about whether a man is the father of a child, then the court can order medical DNA tests on the man, the mother and the child to find out.

A court may terminate a parents’ rights to be with or visit his or her child for many reasons, including abandonment of  the child or the mother when she is pregnant, failure to support that child, child abuse or neglect and other serious grounds.


If you or your children are being abused, you should immediately call the police. You should also keep accurate, detailed records of your and your children’s injuries, medical reports, treatments, witnesses, police involvement, doctors and hospital staff. You should go to your local domestic violence shelter if you need a safe place to stay or other services and assistance.

An abused spouse or the parent of an abused child does not have to get a divorce to get a court’s help. Even if you are not married, you can still get help from a court if you are being abused. The court can issue a “protective order” to protect the person being abused from the abuser. The protective order will require the abuser to stay away from you and your child, could limit phone calls and require the abuser to support you (without seeing or contacting you). A protective order also will make it easier for the police to protect you or your child. If you want to get a protective order, then visit your county’s courthouse and ask where to apply for a protective order. The police may also be able to tell you, as can the Texas Council on Family Violence.  There is no cost for a protective order.

If you have already filed for a divorce, the court in charge of your divorce can also issue a protective order.

Once you report the abuse, the police and district or county attorney can bring a criminal charge against the abuser if there is enough evidence. You will need to cooperate with the police and the district or county attorney in order for them to press charges. You could also sue the abuser for personal injuries. You should discuss this option with a lawyer who can explain the process and look at the evidence against the abuser to see if you have a good case.

Abuse Hotlines and Community Outreach

The most important thing is that neither you nor your children need to live in fear. The abuse is not your fault. There are many places willing to help you if you ask. These agencies can point you in the right direction. These groups understand what you are going through and are even willing just to talk. But remember that your computer and phone can be monitored—so please be sure to contact help from a safe place.


At the Texas Council on Family Violence website you can find information about and resources from your local family violence support provider. You can contact your local family violence support provider for help escaping the abuse and also to receive other services and assistance. Visit or contact them by phone at (800)525-1978.


There is also a domestic violence hotline that operates 24 hours a day/7 days a week. Contact (800)799-7233 (if hearing impaired, contact (800)787-3224). You can also contact them via chat at and find other information. provides help to teens and young adults who are in abusive dating relationships. Help is available  24 hours a day. You can call (866) 311-9474 (if hearing impaired, call (866)331-8453). You can use the chat feature on You can also seek help by texting LOVEIS to 22522.


Family Resources

LGBTQ Resources

Domestic Violence Resources

*Indicates a resource developed by the Texas Foster Youth Justice Project, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. or Texas C-Bar. Please download, copy, and distribute. Complete Resource List