Frequently Asked Legal Questions

Below is a collection of the frequently asked questions we receive at the library. Because we are reference librarians and not attorneys, we are limited in how much assistance we can provide. We are careful not to provide legal advice, which means we cannot determine if something is legal or illegal, we cannot interpret the law or say how it applies in a situation you describe, and we cannot provide a legal opinion. We provide you with references to the law and other resources so that you can make a determination on your own or with the help of an attorney. If you wish to speak to an attorney but do not know where to find one or cannot afford one, we provide several options that explain where you can go for help.

Click on a subject heading to view or hide the questions related to that topic. Click on a question to view its answer.

Consumer Protection 

Do I have 3 days to return a purchase or cancel a contract in Texas?

The Texas Attorney General's office addresses the 3-day right to cancel in Texas on their website, but they explain that the law is very specific and does not apply to most consumer purchases:

Many consumers are under the impression that they have a 3-day right to cancel any and all consumer purchases. However, this is not true. The right to cancel law applies only to very specific situations.

If the information from the Attorney General does not answer your question, you will need to consult a licensed attorney for advice specific to your case.

I purchased an item that I no longer want. Do I have a legal right to return it to the store?

We receive this question often, but we are unaware of any state law requiring any and all merchants to accept returns. Because we are not attorneys and cannot comment on your specific situation, it is best to speak to an attorney who could inform you of your legal options. While there are laws that allow for a 3-day right to cancel certain purchases, these laws are very specific and do not apply in a majority of consumer purchases. The Texas Attorney General provides this information on the 3-day right to cancel in Texas.

I just bought a new car, but I have now changed my mind and no longer want it. How long do I have to return it?

Richard Alderman, a prominent Texas attorney who helped draft the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, addresses this issue on his Web site. View his response to this question here. He states:

As a general rule, when you sign a contract to buy something you are bound by the terms of that contract. There is no time limit within which you may just "change your mind." In most cases, to get out of a contract, you must show that you were induced into the contract by fraud, duress, deceit or misrepresentation. There are a few exceptions to this rule.

I just bought a used car and decided I don't want it. Do I have a legal right to return it?

The Texas State Law Library cannot determine your legal rights in a situation. Only a licensed attorney can inform you of your legal rights in this type of situation. In general, once you sign a contract, you are bound by the terms it contains, and it would be up to the seller to determine a return policy. But there may be exceptions to this, and only a licensed attorney can inform you of your legal options. Some contracts include a cancellation period, a grace period, or a "cooling off" period. Review the terms of your contract.

I bought a used car, but it does not run well. I think the seller lied to me. What can I do?

Please review the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA) as that is the leading consumer protection legislation in Texas. Generally speaking, it protects consumers by making it unlawful to misrepresent a product that is sold in the state. Richard Alderman, a prominent Texas attorney who helped draft the DTPA, discusses one's options when a seller has lied about major defects and he also discusses one's options when a seller claims he did not know about a defect. He states the following:

Under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, it is unlawful for a seller to fail to disclose known defects, in order to induce you to make a purchase. In other words, if a seller knows of a major defect he must disclose it. I should point out that this law applies to all sellers, including individuals not in business. Under this law, a seller who knowingly fails to disclose facts, or takes steps to conceal them, may be liable for up to three times your damages plus court costs and attorneys' fees. To use the Deceptive Trade Practices Act you must first give the seller written notice of your complaint and the amount of your damages.

For more information about the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, we recommend this video by Richard Alderman from a People's Law School session that explains the DTPA and how it can be used to assert your rights.

Is there a Lemon Law in Texas? Does it cover used cars?

The Texas version of what is commonly referred to as a lemon law starts at section 2301.601 of the Texas Occupations Code. The Texas Department of Transportation has this information about the Texas lemon law. They also have this brochure about the lemon law [PDF]. And because the law is complex, the department also offers an assistance hotline at (888) 368-4689 or (512) 416-4800.

What is the maximum fee a business can charge for a bounced check?

Please review section 3.506 of the Texas Business & Commerce Code as it discusses when a $30 maximum processing fee applies.

Can a business charge me more for using a credit card instead of cash?

Please review section 339.001 of the Texas Finance Code as it regulates the imposition of surcharges on a credit card. Note that subsection (b) exempts certain governmental agencies. The Texas Attorney General also publishes this brief brochure that discusses surcharges for credit card payments [PDF].

Can gift cards expire? Can merchants charge a yearly fee on a gift card?

Chapter 604 of the Texas Business & Commerce Code regulates the sale of "stored value cards," a term defined to include a "gift card or gift certificate." Review subchapter B for information on permissible fees and subchapter C for information about required disclosures, such as expiration dates and policies.

In addition to state law, the 2009 federal Credit CARD Act [PDF] also regulates gift cards and their expiration policies. To read the portion of the federal law that relates to gift cards, see section 1693l-1 of Title 15 of the U.S. Code or read this publication from the Federal Reserve that explains the new federal laws: What You Need to Know: New Rules for Gift Cards.

Are auto-renewing contracts ("evergreen clauses") legal in Texas?

We have been unable to locate any state laws that regulate auto-renewing contracts in general. House Bill 1702 from the 80th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature sought to restrict the automatic renewal of contracts, but this bill did not become law. Because the library is unable to determine whether something is legal or illegal, please consult with a licensed attorney if you have questions about a specific contract.

Criminal Law 

Is it true that if someone breaks in to your house, you can shoot and kill them?

These types of provisions are commonly referred to as "castle doctrines." Please review sections 9.31 and 9.32 of the Texas Penal Code for information on when deadly force is justified and when it is not justified by state law.

How can I get something removed from my criminal record? What is expunction?

In certain cases, Texas allows for arrest records or records of acquittals to be cleared from one's record. This process is known as expunction. In certain circumstances, it may also be possible to "seal" one's records. This is known as non-disclosure. The requirements for expunction and the procedure to be followed are located in chapter 55 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. The Office of Court Administration also publishes documents and instructions relating to non-disclosure orders.

The Web site TexasLawHelp.org also has information and forms related to expunctions. And the Texas Young Lawyers Association also publishes this brochure about expunctions and non-disclosures [PDF] that includes information about who is eligible and what procedures must be followed.

Is gambling illegal?

The Texas State Law Library cannot determine if something is legal or illegal. Chapter 47 of the Texas Penal Code contains the criminal laws that relate to gambling. These laws are complex, and because we are not attorneys, we are unable to interpret them for you. Consider reviewing our gambling research guide if you would like more information about gambling laws in Texas.

For some clarification on what constitutes gambling and what does not, see this list of Texas Attorney General opinions regarding gambling (scroll down to the "Gambling" heading).

If you are wondering whether a specific business plan or whether a specific act would be considered gambling, you will need to consult with a licensed attorney. We cannot make that determination for you.

Debt Collection 

What is the statute of limitations on debt?

Please review section 16.004 of the Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code. It provides for a 4-year limitations period for suits related to debt. According to the statute, the 4-year period begins "after the day the cause of action accrues." While we are unable to calculate when this 4-year period begins and ends for you, the Texas Attorney General provides the following information about the limitations period:

We also receive inquiries regarding the obligation to pay old debts. If you never paid off an old debt, that does not mean it is not valid; you are obligated to pay it even if it has been several years since you were contacted by a collection agency or the business you owe the debt to.

Many consumers are under the impression that after a certain number of years, they are no longer responsible for an unpaid debt.

Under Chapter 16.004 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code, Four-Year Limitations Period, the statute of limitations for filing suit to collect a debt is no later than four years after the cause of action accrues. An example of when the cause of action accrues is the date on which the debt is declared to be in default.

Please speak with an attorney if you are unsure of how to calculate when your cause of action accrued. Keep in mind that certain actions such as making a partial payment, agreeing to a payment plan, or acknowledging the debt may reset the 4-year period. For more information about debt collection, review this debt collection article from the Texas Attorney General.

Debt collectors keep calling me. What can I do?

Please review the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act [PDF] as it regulates communications in connection with debt collection. In particular, section 805(c) of the Act states the following about ceasing contact:

If a consumer notifies a debt collector in writing that the consumer refuses to pay a debt or that the consumer wishes the debt collector to cease further communication with the consumer, the debt collector shall not communicate further with the consumer with respect to such debt, except (1) to advise the consumer that the debt collector's further efforts are being terminated; (2) to notify the consumer that the debt collector or creditor may invoke specified remedies which are ordinarily invoked by such debt collector or creditor; or (3) where applicable, to notify the consumer that the debt collector or creditor intends to invoke a specified remedy. If such notice from the consumer is made by mail, notification shall be complete upon receipt.

There are many sample "cease contact" letters. For example, this publication from the National Consumer Law Center contains a sample letter [PDF].

Can debt collectors call my work? Can they call my family or boss?

Please review section 1692c of Title 15 of the U.S. Code as it relates to communications from debt collectors. In particular, subsection (b) deals with communications with third parties. It states:

Except as provided in section 1692b of this title, without the prior consent of the consumer given directly to the debt collector, or the express permission of a court of competent jurisdiction, or as reasonably necessary to effectuate a postjudgment judicial remedy, a debt collector may not communicate, in connection with the collection of any debt, with any person other than the consumer, his attorney, a consumer reporting agency if otherwise permitted by law, the creditor, the attorney of the creditor, or the attorney of the debt collector.

Click here to review the exceptions allowed by section 1692b.

For how long can negative information appear on my credit report?

Section 20.05 of the Texas Business & Commerce Code lists the information that a credit reporting agency may not furnish on a consumer report. Certain negative information may not be reported after 7 years. Certain bankruptcy information may not be reported after 10 years. For federal laws regarding credit reporting agencies and the information they may or may not furnish on a credit report, see Title 15, Chapter 41, Subchapter III of the U.S. Code.

For more information, see our research guide on credit reports.

Family Law 

Does Texas recognize common law marriages? How do common law marriages work in Texas?

Yes, Texas law does recognize common law marriages, which are also referred to as marriages without formalities or informal marriages. Please review chapter 2, subchapter E of the Texas Family Code for the state laws on informal marriages. For other questions, review this information about common law marriages on the Travis County Web site. In particular, the Travis County resource outlines a three-part test in relation to common law marriages:

First, you must have "agreed to be married."
Second, you must have "held yourselves out" as husband and wife. You must have represented to others that you were married to each other. As an example of this, you may have introduced you partner socially as "my husband," or you may have filed a joint income tax return.
Third, you must have lived together in this state as husband and wife.

Review our common law marriage research guide if you would like to locate more information.

How old do you have to be in order to be considered an adult? What is the "age of consent" in Texas?

We have not located any state law that universally defines an age of adulthood in Texas. Age of adulthood differs depending on the situation. Chapter 129 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code establishes the "age of majority" as 18. Section 101.003 of the Texas Family Code defines the term "minor" for the purposes of Title 5 of the Texas Family Code. Also review section 21.11 of the Texas Penal Code, which defines what constitutes "indecency with a child" and who qualifies as a "child."

In Texas, what is commonly referred to as "emancipation" is the "removal of disabilities of minority." For information on the removal of disabilities of minority, see chapter 31 of the Texas Family Code.

Do children have to be a certain age before they can be left alone at home?

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services publishes this information about leaving a child home alone. The Texas Penal Code also makes it a criminal offense to leave a child alone in a vehicle under certain circumstances. Click here to review section 22.10 of the Texas Penal Code.

Forms 

Where can I find legal forms online?

The Web site TexasLawHelp.org has many legal forms available freely. Click on the DIY Forms links near the top of the page to access the forms that are available.

Our website also has a page dedicated to commonly requested forms. Apart from that, you may want to try your county's website or the website of the court you are dealing with. You can sometimes find commonly used legal forms on those sites. Or if you know the exact form you need, contact us and we can verify whether it is available in the library.

I am looking for a specific legal form. Can I get it from the library?

The Texas State Law Library has many legal practice guides and form books for specific areas of the law. Rather than "fill-in-the-blank" forms, these resources provide information on accomplishing a legal procedure. Many also offer assistance in drafting the documents that must be filed with the court. These drafting guides give how-to advice on the information that needs to be included in a legal document, and they recommend phrasing to comply with the law and procedure.

Because most "legal forms" are actually drafting guides, we cannot quickly provide you with a "fill-in-the-blank" form. And because we are not attorneys, we cannot recommend which drafting guide or form you should use. But if you know exactly what you are seeking, we can try to verify whether or not it is available in one of the books at the library. If it is available in our library but you are unable to visit the library in person to make a copy, you can purchase a copy through our document delivery service.

Raffles and Gambling 

I'd like to hold a raffle. Is that legal?

Certain organizations in Texas qualify to hold charitable raffles. Please review this information about raffles from the Texas Attorney General as well as this article from the Texas Attorney General titled "Raffles in Texas: Know the Law." If you are interested in reading the text of the law itself, the Charitable Raffle Enabling Act is located at chapter 2002 of the Texas Occupations Code.

I'd like to sell my house through a raffle. Is that legal?

Is gambling illegal?

The Texas State Law Library cannot determine if something is legal or illegal. Chapter 47 of the Texas Penal Code contains the criminal laws that relate to gambling. The laws on gambling are complex, and because we are not attorneys, we cannot interpret the law for you. Consider reviewing our gambling research guide if you would like more information about gambling laws in Texas.

For some clarifications on what constitutes gambling and what does not, the Texas Attorney General has issued the following legal opinions regarding gambling (scroll down to the "Gambling" heading).

If you are wondering whether a specific business plan or whether a specific act would be considered gambling, you will need to consult with a licensed attorney. We cannot make that determination for you.

Telephones 

Can I tape a telephone conversation?

The library is unable to determine if you have a legal right to tape a telephone conversation. Please review section 16.02 of the Texas Penal Code as that statute outlines what is considered an unlawful interception, use, or disclosure of wire, oral, or electronic communications. Because the law is complex, it would be best to speak to a licensed attorney for advice.

You may also want to review the Reporter's Recording Guide, a publication put out by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press that discusses the taping laws of Texas and other states. For more information, review our research guide on recording laws.

How late can telemarketers call?

Please review chapter 301 of the Texas Business & Commerce Code for the laws on telephone solicitation practices. In particular, section 301.051 restricts certain telephone solicitations to the period between noon and 9pm. Also review chapter 302 of the Texas Business & Commerce Code as it regulates other aspects of telephone solicitations.

Texas Trivia 

Is it illegal to pick bluebonnets in Texas?

Please review this press release put out the Texas Department of Public Safety regarding bluebonnets [PDF]. While it states that "there is no law against picking our State Flower," it urges you to consider other laws and other issues that might come into play. Also keep in mind that apart from state law, local governments (e.g., counties, municipalities) can enact ordinances that might apply within your jurisdiction.

Can Texas secede? I heard it is one of the only states that can secede from the United States.

On their online exhibit about the annexation of Texas, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission says no:

In fact, Texas received no special terms in its admission to the Union. Once Texas had agreed to join the Union, she never had the legal option of leaving, either before or after the Civil War.

Is it true you can shoot your wife's lover if you catch them "in the act?"

This is commonly referred to as the "paramour law," which referred to article 1220 of the Texas Penal Code. Article 1220 was repealed in 1973 by Senate Bill 34 during the 63rd Regular Session of the Texas Legislature. Prior to its repeal, article 1220 of the Texas Penal Code read as follows:

Homicide is justifiable upon one taken in the act of adultery with the wife, provided that the killing takes place before the parties to the act have separated. Such circumstance cannot justify a homicide where it appears that there has been, on the part of the husband, any connivance or assent to the adulterous connection.

Is it true that the Texas flag is the only state flag that can be flown at the same height as the U.S. flag?

Federal law describes how the U.S. flag is to be displayed at Title 4, Chapter 1 of the U.S. Code. In particular, please review section 7 as it describes the position and manner of display for the U.S. flag. We are unable to locate any provision that applies only to Texas in chapter 1 of Title 4 of the U.S. Code.

For more information, see our research guide on flying the flag.

page last updated: 8 Sep 2014 1:11 PM