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Can common law marriage be a path to naturalization?

Common law marriage is a type of union that does not need to require a marriage ceremony or a marriage certificate. Rather, members of the couple simply have an understanding that they are committed to each other, and they behave as a married couple.

Only of a handful of states in the country recognize common law marriage, and Texas is among them. If a U.S. citizen lives with a foreigner in Texas under this type of relationship, it can have important implications on the foreigner’s ability to gain citizenship.

What is common law marriage?

Under Texas law, in addition to getting married in the traditional manner—in a church or court—a couple can also be considered married in the eyes of the law if they meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • The couple agrees to be married.
  • The couple lives together in Texas.
  • The couple presents themselves as married to the community.
  • If homosexual, the couple entered into the common law marriage after June 26, 2015—when the prohibition of same-sex marriage was found to be unconstitutional.


Under Texas law, common law marriage is treated exactly the same as any other, legally binding form of marriage. Couples who are married under the common law can receive the same tax breaks, employer benefits and estate claims as those married by an officiant.

Although common law marriage is not legal at the national level, it’s worth noting that the federal government will recognize common law marriages in any state where such marriages are legal. Therefore, a foreigner residing in Texas who is married to an American citizen under the common law can legally pursue naturalization using marriage-based eligibility criteria.

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