Victoria couple reflect growing national trend of living together without marriage

Feb. 11, 2012 at 10:05 p.m.
Updated Feb. 11, 2012 at 8:12 p.m.

Gracie Stanford, Arron Stanford Jr., Teara McPherson, and Arron Stanford play at Riverside Park in Victoria. Arron and Teara are content being unmarried, although their children say they wish their parents would wed. The couple have been together for 16 years.

Gracie Stanford, Arron Stanford Jr., Teara McPherson, and Arron Stanford play at Riverside Park in Victoria. Arron and Teara are content being unmarried, although their children say they wish their parents would wed. The couple have been together for 16 years.

For more information about cohabitation,

Arron Stanford admitted it was love at first sight the first time he laid eyes on his girlfriend, Teara McPherson.

The year was 1994.

Stanford, who was 15, said he noticed McPherson, who was just shy of 18, sitting alone at a table during a mutual friend's birthday party.

After gaining his composure, Stanford said, he approached the attractive girl with the long, brown Rapunzel-like ponytail who was wearing a stylish, blue blouse and denim shorts folded upward at the ends.

"I went up to her and said, 'Nice party, ain't it?'" to which she replied, "Sure is."

"We haven't been apart since," Stanford said proudly.

Despite being voted in high school as most likely to break up, the couple will celebrate their 17th anniversary in June.

However, they have yet to celebrate their first wedding anniversary.

Like a growing number of couples, Stanford and McPherson decided to cohabitate.

"We're just like every other family," McPherson said as she sat with Stanford on a bench at Riverside Park, watching their children play. "We're just not married with the paper."

Sociologists define cohabitation as the sharing of a household by an unmarried couple.

Cohabitation alone may not qualify as common law marriage.

An "informal marriage," as it is called in Texas, is established either by registering at the county courthouse without having a ceremony or by meeting a three-prong test showing: evidence of an agreement to be married; cohabitation in Texas; and representation to others that the parties are married.

For better or worse

Stanford, now 31, and McPherson, 34, said they have been through enough situations of better and worse and thick and thin to consider themselves man and wife.

Originally from Longview, the couple first moved in together in July 1996 when a tough home life led McPherson to move in with Stanford's family.

They have two children, Arron Stanford Jr., 9, and Gracie Stanford, 8.

The couple moved to Victoria in 2005 to care for Stanford's ill father.

Last year, they both lost their jobs; she as a waitress, he in the oilfield. They lost their apartment and had to move in with relatives.

Although the couple is going through a hard time, they said, their love for each other is as strong as ever.

"You can act like you are so mad at the world, and he can figure out how to make you laugh," McPherson said smiling as she shared why she loves the man she calls her husband. "He can be sweet when he wants to."

He added, "I like how she has my back, no matter what. Times get tough and she stays by my side. We jump through every hurdle together, and she doesn't take the easy road around things."

"And she is a good cook," said Stanford, as he playfully nudged McPherson.

Although the two have not had a formal wedding ceremony, Stanford has given McPherson several engagement rings.

But McPherson, who is not a fan of flashy jewelry, prefers a tattoo of the letter "A" for Arron on her ring finger as a symbol of devotion instead.

Her Facebook status also indicates she is married.

The couple made it clear they are not against marriage, but that it was just never a priority, especially after the birth of their children.

"A lot of women think if they don't have the paper it's not love. Don't think it's love right away. Move in with each other and get to know each other better. Learn how he like his socks folded and what he likes to eat for dinner," she said.

Money issues

Like most other couples, they acknowledged their relationship is not perfect, with the majority of their fights stemming from money.

"We came in the relationship with nothing but love for each other," Stanford said about their desire to be together for richer or poorer. "Money wasn't part of the equation then, and it isn't now."

Other legal issues that may affect cohabiting couples include estate planning and medical care, according to

Having been in a common law marriage for some time now, McPherson said, she and the kids will get Stanford's assets just as if they were legally married.

Living in sin?

During their time together, the couple has also had to combat criticism that their living situation is a sin.

"The church's stance is the same as it has always been. We encourage couples to practice their faith and be chaste in preparation for marriage," said the Rev. Gary Janak, pastor of St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church in El Campo. "Sex outside of marriage is a sin."

"The church understands marriage as a covenant - both between the spouses and between the couple and God," Janak said.

"While a priest or deacon is present at a wedding, as the official witness of the Church, it is the couple, through their exchange of consent, which brings marriage into existence. This is the reason the Church places such an emphasis upon marriage preparation. It wants couples to understand the implications and the necessity of entering into marriage as a free act of their will."

Janak recommends couples who are cohabitating and have plans to marry to begin living separately or, if that is not possible, to cease sharing the same bedroom.

McPherson and Stanford said they try their best to ignore the negativity.

"When we die it is not up to these people down here, it's up to the man up there," said McPherson, who said her family is religious even though they do not regularly attend church. "It's all about the love, honesty and trust, and we have those things."

Wedding in the future?

The lovebirds' children, however, hope the wedding comes sooner than later.

"I just want y'all to get married," said Arron Stanford Jr.

Gracie Stanford was indifferent about her parents' marriage status.

"I just want a baby sister and brother," she said.

While Stanford said another child is not likely part of the family's upcoming plans, marriage may be on the horizon one day.

"If I have the money to do a dream wedding, then maybe, but really if it ain't broke, then don't fix it. But if it is something she wanted, I would do it in a New York minute," said Stanford.

"When you get married, you are only supposed to get married one time, so they say. We're going to make sure that one time counts."



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