Just living together doesn't create a common law marriage

June 4, 2011 at 1:04 a.m.

By Richard Alderman

I have lived with my boyfriend for almost seven years. People have told us that if we live together for more than seven years we will have a common law marriage. We don't want to be married. Should we just live apart for a few weeks and then move back in together? How long do we have to live apart?

The good news is that you don't have to move out, and you will not be married. Just living together for any length of time does not create a common law marriage. To have a common law marriage you must agree to be married, hold yourselves out as married, and live together as married. As long as you do not want to be married and don't hold yourself out as married, you will not create a common law marriage.

What legal device do I use to leave property to a friend after I die? I don't want to leave it to my family.

If you want to transfer property after your death, the device you use is a will. It doesn't matter if the person is family or friend. Without a will, the law determines where your property goes and it usually goes to a family member.

I was married over a year ago. The person who took the video still has not delivered, even though we have paid in full. Can we take him to small claims court to get our money back?

First, do you want the video or your money? My guess you probably still want the video more than the money, so I suggest you start with a certified letter and email, giving him a week to get you the video or a refund. If he doesn't respond and the amount is under $10,000, a claim in small claims court is the best way to enforce you legal rights. You also should file a complaint with the Texas Consumer Complaint Center and maybe we can help www.texasccc.com.

Does a store have the right to limit who may park in its lot? Isn't this public property? Can I be towed for parking where I shouldn't?

As a general rule, a parking lot is not public property. Nearly all parking lots are private property, and the owner of the lot may limit who may park in the lot. Whether you may be towed, however, is a different question.

Although a store may limit who can use its parking facility, it must follow state law to have the right to tow violators. Under state law, a parking facility must place the proper signs before it may tow a car. Among other things, the signs must be conspicuously visible to and facing the driver who enters the lot, located at each entrance to the lot. The signs must also contain the international symbol for towing vehicles, describe who may and who may not park, and, contain a current phone number that is answered 24 hours a day to enable the owner to locate the car. The bottom line is that a parking lot owner may limit who is permitted to park in the lot, however, it may only tow wrongdoers if there are proper signs.

I am the sole shareholder and president of a small corporation. Does my business need an attorney to file a claim in small claims court?

In most cases, a corporation may file a lawsuit only through an attorney. In small claims court, however, any authorized agent, such as the president, may represent a corporation.

Can our daughter-in-law claim any part of land our son recently inherited?

If the property was inherited by just your son, it is considered his separate property and his wife has no interest in it.

Richard Alderman, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. His column appears weekly in the Victoria Advocate. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391. He also maintains a Web page at www.peopleslawyer.net.



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