AUSTIN (KXAN) — You might’ve heard of the phrase “common law marriage” before, which signifies a different kind of union compared to one marked by a ceremony or other components behind a traditional marriage. But how is it defined here in Texas, and what rights do common-law couples have in the eyes of the law?

How does Texas define common law marriages?

Texas’ definition for a common law marriage is one where neither of the partners are married, both are ages 18 or older, they agree to be married, they live together in Texas and “represent themselves to others as married,” per Austin-based Abraham Kant Esquire.

On that last point, common law marriages are validated in the eyes of Texas law using several factors, including statements from friends, relatives and other relevant parties that support this relationship status. Other components used to validate a common law marriage can include joint bank accounts or shared credit cards, per Abraham Kant Esquire.

Contrary to some beliefs, common law marriages aren’t dependent on how long a couple has been together, according to Texas Law Help.

Should both partners agree to a common law marriage, they can opt to sign a Declaration of Informal Marriage with their county clerk to serve as validated proof of the marriage, Texas Law Help added. However, this step isn’t a requirement in validating the marriage, per the Texas State Law Library.

Why might some people opt for a common law marriage?

While each couple makes marital decisions individually, some factors could include not wanting the costs of a traditional marriage ceremony, or due to religious or personal reasons. For yet-to-be married couples who’ve lived together for an extended period of time, common law marriages add a layer of financial protection.

What happens if a couple in a common law marriage decides to separate?

If those married under common law decide to separate, the process is virtually the same in Texas as it would be for a traditionally married couple choosing to divorce. The divorcing couple will be required to negotiate their shared property division, maintenance agreements and child custody, as applicable.

However, common law marriage can also allow couples to maintain a level of financial independence, according to Abraham Kant Esquire. Under a common law marriage, couples will sign cohabitation agreements which include an outline of the partner’s financial obligations to one another.

Under these cohabitation agreements, the couple also indicates what property remains under individual ownership of which partner, as relevant.