That Part: Common Law Marriage, Palimony & Punitive Measures for Love Lost

By: E.A. Putman

A common law marriage is more than just living together and it is more than just calling your partner “hubby” or “wifey.”

This is the scenario: a person leaves their budding career at the request of their partner, raises the children, takes care of the home and supports the dreams and ideas of the person that made promises to them. Not promises that were made in a ceremony or by applying for a license with the county clerk. Promises that were made during the course of a dating relationship. It happens. Sometimes these relationships transition to marriage and sometimes they never make it to the chapel, and it is the latter situation where a person may ask, “what’s the recourse?” This is what Brynn Cameron asked Blake Griffin.

NBA Player Blake Griffin

The Tale of Blake Griffin

This week a judge ordered NBA player Blake Griffin to pay $258,000 a month in child support based on an estimated $35 million dollar annual income (salary+investments). This is just the latest development in Mr. Griffin’s legal battles. The Detroit Pistons power forward has been embroiled in a contentious lawsuit earlier this year since Brynn Cameron sued him for palimony for “trading [her], his fiancee and the mother of his two children, for reality television star Kendall Jenner.” Translation: he broke those unmarried promises (see first paragraph) and she wants palimony.

“Palimony” in Texas

Palimony refers to spousal support (maintenance) paid where the parties in question were never married. Texas Family Code Sec. 8.061 states, “an order for maintenance is not authorized between unmarried cohabitants under any circumstances.” Thus, while the Texas Family Code does not provide for palimony, there are only limited circumstances in which parties that have not been legally married may claim spousal support against one another. One of those scenarios is a common law marriage.

Common Law Marriage

Texas recognizes the existence of informal marriages, more frequently called common-law marriages. A common law marriage is more than just living together and it is more than just calling your partner “hubby” or “wifey.” In Texas, to prove the existence of an informal marriage, the parties must have either  a form prescribed by the bureau of vital statistics and provided by the county clerk (for the purpose of this blog I’ve used Harris County)  or prove that the parties agreed to be married, thereafter lived together in Texas as spouses and represented to others in Texas that they were married. 

The threshold to prove an informal marriage and spousal maintenance in Texas are not simple. Texas courts may order spousal maintenance at the time of divorce only if the spouse seeking maintenance will lack sufficient property, including his separate property, on dissolution of the marriage to provide for his minimum reasonable needs and if certain other conditions are met. See Texas Family Code § 8.051 for further details on eligibility. 

No marriage, No support

Brynn Cameron’s 20-page lawsuit that is filed in a Los Angeles County Super Court would probably not past the muster for an informal marriage in Texas. While there is sufficient proof that the parties agreed to be married and thereafter lived together as spouses (meh–maybe not the second prong either), there was no sufficient proof that they represented to others they were married, especially since they were only admittedly engaged. No marriage, no alimony. Child support is a different story and as reported this week, Ms. Cameron will receive over $3 million dollars a year in child support. 

Like Blake and Brynn, a couple can be together for years, have acquired property and become accustom to a certain lifestyle, but does that fact give them any rights or protections?  In Texas Family law, no. Marital property laws were designed to protect married couples. But, we will find out how California decides when this case goes to trial in February 2019. 

The Putman Firm, PLLC is a family law litigation firm that handles a wide array of family matters including criminal matters that intersect family law, i.e. family violence assault cases, protective orders (criminal and civil) and allegations of child abuse. If you or someone you know is facing a challenging family matter, contact The Putman Firm, PLLC at (281) 501-9033.

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