Wrongful Death, Divorce, and Common Law Marriage

Whether a divorce is done for financial or personal reasons, it is important to understand the different types of divorce and their respective impacts on issues like wrongful death and common law marriage. Under Texas law, either husband or wife may ask the court for a divorce regardless of the fault of either party. Either spouse need only prove that the marriage is legitimately destroyed and there will be no further attempts to reconcile the marriage. The Dallas court of appeals dealt with this issue as well as wrongful death and common law marriage in ESTATE OF STEPHEN FRIEDEL v. HILLCREST FAMILY MEDICINE.

Rohini Malik and Stephen Friedel were married in 2006 and soon divorced so that neither spouse would share in any debt of the other spouse. After the divorce, Malik and Friedel lived together and continued to wear their wedding rings. According to the couple, they planned on marrying again after they solved all financial issues. Unfortunately, in 2010, Friedel fell ill with respiratory issues and, due to a misdiagnosis, suffered cardiac arrest and died. At this point, Malik and Friedel’s parents filed a wrongful death suit against the doctor and the clinic. The clinic claimed that Malik did not meet the requirements to file a wrongful death claim.

Wrongful Death Claim

In Texas, only a spouse, child, or parent may file a wrongful death claim. Any or all of these individuals may file the claim on behalf of any or all of the each other. If the claim is not filed within three months of the death, the estate of the deceased shall bring the action unless specifically told not to. In this case, the main issue is whether or not Malik met the Texas requirements of a common law wife, giving her the right to file a wrongful death claim.

Common Law Spouse

In Texas, a common law spouse must meet three requirements: 1) both parties must agree to the marriage; 2) both parties must live together as husband and wife; and 3) both parties must represent themselves as married to each other. In this case, the parties only met one of the three requirements. Malik and Friedel first failed to let each other know that they were involved in a common law marriage. The couple also planned to remarry after they solved their financial issues, this future marriage plan served as evidence that any agreement of marriage did not exist at the time of the wrongful death suit. Because Malik did not meet the requirements of a common law wife, she was unable to file a wrongful death suit under Texas law.

As with any other type of case, time is of the essence in family law matters. We are ready to help you and your family. Regardless of whether your case is in Dallas, Rockwall, Kaufman, or Tarrant County, we will help you. Please call us at 972-564-4644 to schedule a consultation with one of our qualified attorneys.