A few months ago, I wrote two articles in this blog about common-law marriage – one to talk about what specifically constitutes a common-law marriage in Texas, and one to talk about how people can safeguard themselves from allegations of being in a common-law marriage. While this is a sometimes-complicated area of family law in Texas, there are safeguards that people can use, such as creating cohabitation agreements prior to living together, that can help protect one partner from finding themselves married under Texas law, when they never intended to be.
The common-law cases I have worked on in the past include some people you might consider celebrities – pro athletes among them – in which the female in the case was claiming common-law marriage in order to obtain a portion of the man’s earnings and assets. There’s a current case working its way through the Texas courts – Houston, in particular – that’s introducing common-law marriage in Texas to gossip magazines and websites around the world, as well as showing that common-law cases don’t always follow the patterns that we’re accustomed to seeing.
You’ve probably heard of Iggy Azalea – she’s a 23-year-old performer who moved to the United States from her native Australia to learn how to rap, and has achieved incredible fame and fortune in the past few years – she’s had a string of hit singles and has collaborated with other famous artists; she’s got nearly 5 million Twitter followers; and she’s currently dating a professional basketball player.
Azalea – who’s real name is Amethyst Kelly – arrived in Houston in 2008, met a local rap producer who was an associate of Maurice Williams, who was then performing under the stage name Hefe Wine. The two of them have told different versions of their story in recent legal proceedings, necessitated by Williams’ October 2014 divorce filing in Harris County. According to a recent, detailed article by the Houston Press’ Craig Malisow, Williams claims they were married according to Texas’s common-law marriage statute and that they collaborated on music together(which at least one associate of Williams has corroborated). She claims that, while they lived together briefly, that they were never married, and that Williams became “aggressive and possessive and made unwelcome sexual advances” toward her.
The Malisow article reveals that Williams has a somewhat checkered past – including a current assault charge involving a woman Williams had a child with, and some prior questionable financial dealings that led to lawsuits.
If I were defending Iggy Azalea in her common-law charges, this is definitely something I’d explore – if claims of a common-law marriage can be tied to a pattern of behavior that might appear suspicious, then the judge or would likely be more prone to believe Azalea’s claims that the couple had never agreed to be married.
If a couple has children, buys property together, or shares bills, it’s easier to make the case that a couple is functioning as a married couple – however, in Azalea’s case, it appeared to be more of a business relationship between two creative artists that definitively ended even before Azalea moved from Houston to Atlanta – and I’d establish the nature of the relationship to help the judge or jury better understand its context. In addition to living together, the Texas statute requires that the couple “agree to be married” and hold themselves out to others as married. The “agreement” to be married can be inferred from the general circumstances, but a good argument can be made in many cases that if the couple “agreed to be married”, they could have gotten a marriage license very easily.
To me, it’s evident that Azalea has achieved a level of success that Williams aspired to, and may be seeking fame as well as fortune in filing the case. It’s also evident that Azalea came to Houston as a young aspiring artist who was thinking about keeping a roof over her head rather than the potential legal implications that come with choosing to live with someone in Texas. And while the dynamics of the case are different from what many of us typically see in common-law marriage, this case – like many others – boil down to which version of the relationship is more believable and more borne out by whichever facts are available.