This question recently came up with a client who wanted anonymity regarding her upcoming wedding.  The problem is that she is marrying in Texas and Confidential Licenses are not honored here.

California offers a Confidential License for $85.00 and lists it as “convenient” which I found interesting since I’m licensed in numerous states, I investigated this “new to me” twist on weddings since this law is not effective in Texas.

In Texas, a Common Law or Informal Marriage can be very difficult to prove especially in Probate Court.  Here is why:  it’s very hard to prove a common law marriage if one of the parties is dead.  Although Texas Law does provide for common law marriage, Texas refers to these types of unions as “informal” because the parties lack a formal marriage license.  Texas (and 11 other states) have common law marriages but, proving a marriage existed simply because two people lived together is very difficult.  Texas has a three pronged test to determine if a marriage existed-

1.  There must be an agreement to marry

2.   They must live together after they agree to marry and

3.   They must hold themselves as husband and wife.

Sometimes referred to as the Deadmans Statute, if an attorney on the other side of a Probate Cause Of Action understands hearsay, he can prohibit evidence of the existence that an agreement exists.

Promising to marry in the future is a rough one since the third prong says “there must be an agreement to marry” and what it really should say is “there must be an agreement and you ARE married.”

My father ran into the problem of common law marriage to Gretta Ozee when she died unexpectedly.  They had lived together for 6 years and represented themselves as a couple.  However, the three prong test didn’t have any bearing on the case since my father never anticipated losing Gretta.

My suggestion to anyone (especially seniors) is to go ahead and marry legally in order for your survivor to not lose your estate simply because you overlooked a few legal measures to protect them.

Apparently, the only difference between a traditional marriage license and a confidential license is that the confidential license isn’t a public record document.

However, the necessity to keep a certified copy is suggested because should you move- the validity of a confidential marriage may be challenged in states that do not observe the same laws as California do.

California has had this state law (on the books since 1878) that church officials liked because they became the go-to source for Confidential Marriages.

In 1972, the California Legislature revoked the Churches exclusive Confidential Marriage Franchise.  Confidential Marriages skyrocketed from 1,200 in 1972 to 58,000 a decade later.

Confidential Marriage requirements are that the couple have lived together.

The Marriage Record is only available to the couple and must take place in the same county where the license was issued.

Famous people appreciate the privacy as do people who want to hide their marriage from government, their workplace, financial parties or social acquaintances but, be warned the case of Janet Manser-LaMont who wanted to hide her marriage from the Social Security Administration was caught after receiving $130,116.16 for fifteen years by claiming unmarried as her status.

I suggest that if anyone is entering into marriage for financial reasons to reconsider- you are asked if you are “present if your own free will” for a very good reason.

As for the confidentiality aspect, I’m confused as to why anyone would want to keep their union secret but found the basis of the Confidential Marriage interesting for couples who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to legalize their union since the Confidential Marriage is put in place to legalize a union that already exists by the couple living together.

However, if you are marrying to attain a Green Card be warned that (despite popular myth) a marriage doesn’t automatically guarantee a marriage visa.  Due to the increasing number of marriage frauds (a felony in most states) U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as well as the U.S. State Department and consulates carefully scrutinize all marriage visa applications.  

I wrote a blog regarding Marriage Fraud and outlining the reasons for stringent laws put in place to advise fellow Wedding Officiants and Ministers of the dangers involved when signing a legal document in the form of either a Marriage License or Confidential License Wendy Wortham Explains Marriage Fraud  is a blog I wrote explaining the reasons for not signing or officiating at a wedding with an expiring visa involved.  I do not and will not involve myself with suspicious activity and suggest anyone officiating to carefully review and inspect the circumstances of the couple prior to signing a wedding license.

Problems with insurance have been associated with a Confidential Marriage and you may want to re evaluate whether your marriage being a public record is worth the risk involved by keeping it confidential.

Wendy M Wortham