TDCJ Marriages, Polygamy, Informal Marriage Affidavits & Planning Your Prison Wedding…

One of the first questions I ask my TDCJ Clients is “could there be a chance that the inmate is listed as CLM (Common Law Married) to someone other than YOU on TDCJ Paperwork?” Read on to find out why.

If an inmate of TDCJ is ALREADY listed as being Informally or Common Law Maried to someone OTHER than my Client, we’ve got a real problem.

Your I60 Request For A Marriage Ceremony will be Denied based on the information in the inmates file that lists him or her as being ALREADY MARRIED.

To “undo” this status isn’t as easy as one might think. You now must prove that the other party is either married or provide proof of a Divorce or Rule 11 Agreement. Yes, it’s a huge hurdle in your Prison Wedding Planning Process.

However, it has been resolved at numerous Units over the past year and a half.

Let’s first examine what polygamy is: “Polygamy is a broader, more generic term for multiple marriages and encompasses bigamy – it’s not generally the word to use in a technical, legal context.”

Meaning, in Texas anyway, that your partner already has a wife or husband. The broad spectrum use of Informal Marriage Affidavits within the Texas Department Of Criminal Justice System by inmates in order to obtain Contact Visits is shocking.

NONE of my clients are ever aware of this CLM issue UNTIL they try to marry an inmate and are Denied the privledge.

Because of this issue, I’ve become familiar with how difficult undoing something that’s been done actually is.

Sure, it seemed simple enough to list so and so as your Common Law Spouse at the time but, I’m finding that it’s more and more common for my clients to have far more trouble undoing it.

Going through the process to marry an inmate is stressful enough without finding that in the middle of the process that a “secret” you weren’t aware of was standing in the way.

Years prior to the Administrative Directive giving inmates the right to marry at TDCJ Units, all Marriages were by Proxy. On July 28, 2015, Proxy Marriage in Texas Prisons was replaced– Texas Department Of Justice Administrative Directive.

This “change” gave window for inmates to marry in person or, if they were behind glass, able to hear and understand the ceremony.

What this change also did was effectively “out” inmates who had previously sworn that they were common law married.

This has been a real surprise over and over again to the person trying to marry them who can’t because they had no idea the inmate was proclaiming to be married to someone else.

The widespread misuse of Informal Marriage Affidavits in Texas Prisons is alarming. How alarming? Two out of five of my clients get Denied based on a CLM.

Currently, my Powledge, Polunsky, Stiles, Estes, Estelle, Linda Woodman and Coffield Unit Brides and Grooms are trying to undo a CLM Status that they knew nothing about.

Finding the “other spouse” is awkward and often useless. A better option is to visit the courthouse and attempt to find more information regarding either party.

If you’re lucky, the other party has already remarried. Marriage Licenses in Texas are PUBLIC FILINGS.

I’ve instructed clients to file an Affidavit with Units regarding their relationship with the inmate PRIOR to incarceration.

Why? Many of the inmates actually lived with the parties attempting to marry prior to incarceration not, the party listed on the Informal Marriage Affidavit. A sworn Affidavit MUST BE NOTARIZED. Go to your bank, it’s free.

Secondly, if you can, get proof that the other party is either already married again or the inmate isn’t. A copy of his or hers divorce decree is helpful in this situation.

This puts a heavy burden on the person trying to marry an inmate. HEAVY. After all, they are already paying phenomenal phone bills, traveling to visits and their lives revolve around trying to remain positive in an already demanding relationship.

Being in love with an inmate isn’t an “easy path.” It’s expensive, lonely and often one sided.

The person “on the outside” is burdened with doing most of the work to get the Marriage not only Approved but also to find a TDCJ Officiant and buy the marriage license.

In situations where the inmate has “forgotten to advise” my client will that they were already listed as CLM to someone other than the Client, this is more than a little upsetting.

Why? Now the person on the outside has to really work hard to get the Marriage Ceremony Approved by TDCJ by becoming somewhat of a private detective while trying to work, raise their children and remain UPBEAT.

I’m fairly certain that no one who has filed an Informal Marriage Affidavit at a TDCJ Unit fully understood the ramifications that the document held.

“It’s just a piece of paper, we WON’T really be legally married.” Ignorance of the law continues to be one of the most shocking or enlightening facts to someone (my client) who had no idea what an Informal Marriage Affidavit was and much less, how powerful the document actually is.

Marriages whether they are Formal or Informal are legally binding. If you are lucky, the other party has gone on and married someone else and you can prove it.

What is a Declaration of Informal Marriage? If you agree, you and your partner can sign a Declaration of Informal Marriage with the county clerk.

Once signed, the declaration is valid proof of marriage and you are considered married for all legal purposes.

The declaration form is available from the county clerk. There is a fee for this document.

Since an inmate obviously CANNOT leave a Texas Prison to file this instrument IN PERSON, it has been more than helpful to my clients to prove that an Informal Marriage was NEVER filed at the clerks office.

Also, there could be Community Property involved in a Divorce whether the Marriage was Formal or Informal: Under Texas law, all property acquired during a marriage (formal or common law) is community property.

If a common law marriage is proved, community property is divided the same as if the parties were formally married.

It doesn’t matter which spouse made the purchase or whose name is on the title.

Debts accumulated during a common law marriage are also divided between the spouses. In the same fashion a Formal Marriage would be divided.

If no common law marriage is proved, there is no marital property or debts to divide. As single people, the parties will keep their personal property and property titled to them, and will remain individually responsible for their debts.

Proving a common law marriage can affect whether partners who end their relationship can split property and liabilities between them.

What is a Rule 11 Agreement in Texas and how does it work in a Divorce or Child Custody Matter?

First, let me explain that a Rule 11 only works when you have already filed for a divorce. There must be a filing!

I actually used a Rule 11 Agreement myself to dissolve my second marriage and settle with my ex husband. Why? Money. It’s far less expensive to settle with a Rule 11 than to drag yourself through years in a courtroom.

The fees to dissolve a marriage via Rule 11 were tens of thousands of dollars less expensive than a “traditional divorce.” Attorneys ARE NOT VOLUNTEERS. They get paid by the hour.

How do I know this? My first divorce cost me alone over $200k. Why? A child custody battle. When you are paying your own attorney AND an Ad Lidem Attorney, it’s going to be the most expensive battle that you will ever fight in a courtroom.

If you have ever spent tens of thousands of dollars divorce, you will never do it again. The Rule 11 spares you countless billable attorney hours. Divorce also has filing fees. IE: nothing is free and divorce isn’t either.

Even if you are representing yourself, filing a case in any court has filing fees associated with the matter. It isn’t free to file a lawsuit.

If you are representing yourself Pro Se, you are expected to know and understand court procedure.

This is why I didn’t attempt to represent myself in either of my divorce cases. I knew NOTHING about divorce or family law.

Family Law is significantly different from Tax Law, Civil Law and even Criminal Law. If you don’t know what you are doing in a courtroom, please don’t attempt to file a lawsuit for a divorce or any other matter yourself. Hire an attorney,

Let’s go over what a Rule 11 actually does as used in Federal law refers to USCS Fed Rules Civ Proc R 11.

It is a procedural rule requiring the attorney of record or the party if not represented by an attorney to sign all pleadings, motions, and other papers filed with the court.

By signing the attorney or party represents that the paper is filed in good faith after an inquiry that is reasonable under the circumstances.

Further, the rule provides for the imposition of sanctions, upon a party’s or the court’s own motion, if an attorney or party violates the conditions stated in the rule.

In Texas, Rule 11 refers to the procedural rule requiring agreements between attorneys or parties concerning a pending suit to be in writing, signed, and filed in the court’s record or made on the record in open court. It is codified at Tex. R. Civ. P. 11.
USCS Fed Rules Civ Proc R 11 reads as follows:

Rule 11. Signing Pleadings, Motions, and Other Papers; Representations to the Court; Sanctions

(a) Signature. Every pleading, written motion, and other paper must be signed by at least one attorney of record in the attorney’s name–or by a party personally if the party is unrepresented.

The paper must state the signer’s address, e-mail address, and telephone number. Unless a rule or statute specifically states otherwise, a pleading need not be verified or accompanied by an affidavit.

The court must strike an unsigned paper unless the omission is promptly corrected after being called to the attorney’s or party’s attention.

(b) Representations to the Court. By presenting to the court a pleading, writtenmotion, or other paper–whether by signing, filing, submitting, or later advocating it–an attorney or unrepresented party certifies that to the best of the person’s knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances:

(1) it is not being presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation;

(2) the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for establishing new law;

(3) the factual contentions have evidentiary support or, if specifically so identified, will likely have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery; and

(4) the denials of factual contentions are warranted on the evidence or, if specifically so identified, are reasonably based on belief or a lack of information.

If both parties agree to a Rule 11, this instrument carries the same weight as a judge ruling. Remember though, BOTH PARTIES MUST AGREE to the terms of the Agreement.

If one of you is incarcerated, it makes this far more difficult. How can an incarcerated person appear in Court, they can’t and because of this, I strongly suggest going to the courthouse and getting copies of either a marriage license for the other party involved OR a divorce decree for the incarcerated party.

Personally, I don’t like secrets or surprises although I encountered both with my previous husband’s and subsequently, divorced them because of their “secrets.”

I’m now advising all of my TDCJ Clients to ask this important question first before going through the process of attempting to marry an inmate. “Are you listed as CLM to anyone OTHER THAN ME?” If they are, you need undo what’s been done before moving forward…