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Texas property laws kick in before and after marriage

Many people believe that the legal line between single and married is drawn sometime during a wedding ceremony. Laws can also affect an unmarried relationship, depending on where a couple lives and the commitments they make before getting married.

Laws applying to unmarried couples are more like contract breaches than laws covering marriage and divorce. A few states still enforce breach of promise laws that apply to engaged couples. Breaking up after promising to marry in one of those states could result in a lawsuit seeking damages for emotional distress.

It is legal in several states to sue over gifts given to a couple that contemplated marriage but never went through with the ceremony. Gifts can include ones between the intended bride and groom, like an engagement ring. A broken engagement in some states means the ring is returned to the one who purchased it. In others, it depends on which person decided to back out of the marriage promise.

Property entanglements during engagement are minor compared to the asset mingling of marriage. Texas is a community property state, which means most assets, including spousal incomes, are not separately owned, but shared by a two-person community.

What remains separate for Texas spouses is the property they owned before marriage. What an individual brings into a marriage, he or she can take away from it. Every asset accumulated in between, during marriage, is equally divided when the union ends through divorce or death.

Texas is unlike equitable distribution states, where couples have separate and jointly-owned property during marriage. Laws in these states can be generous to a survivor after a spouse dies, by ensuring that the partner left behind does not lose assets.

Some states have legal provisions that address long-term relationships between unmarried people. Palimony is not automatically awarded to a former partner when an unmarried couple separates. The pair would have had to enter into a written contract to provide a payout to one party.

Source: Forbes, "Legal Lingo You Should Know Before Saying 'I Do,'" Deborah L. Jacobs, May 21, 2012

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