Unique Considerations For Couples In Colorado Common Law Marriages

Colorado is one of a few states to recognize couples who have entered into arrangements known as "common law marriages." Many people today aren't even aware that there is such a thing as common law marriage, nor do they know what it means. Contrary to popular opinion, it doesn't take a set amount of time to establish a common law marriage, nor is there one single act that creates a common law marriage between two people.

According to the Colorado Attorney General's office, a common law marriage consists of a number of different elements that, when considered together, indicate an intent of two people to be married even though they have not gone through with the legal process of marriage (i.e., obtain a marriage certificate and hold a church or civil ceremony to bind them). These elements include, but are not limited to:

  • Having the legal ability to join together (neither party can be married to someone else, nor can the parties be so closely related that to marry would be incestuous)
  • The couple "holding themselves out"/acting like husband and wife (by filing joint tax returns, having joint bank accounts, purchasing a home together or the wife having taken the husband's last name)
  • Each party having consented to the couple being together (i.e., one party is not being held against his or her will or under duress to stay with the other)
  • The parties living together
  • The couple being known among family, friends and others as a married couple

To facilitate a common law marriage's acceptance as such, the state of Colorado actually provides a sample affidavit that couples can fill out to submit to utility companies, insurance providers, mortgage lenders and others that may need proof of a common law marriage.

Ending a common law marriage

Once established, a common law marriage is as binding as a traditional one; the only ways to end a common law marriage are through the death of one party or obtaining a divorce. With that in mind, it is important that couples considering entering into a common law marriage be fully aware of the possible ramifications.

For example, once in a common law marriage, it will not be possible for either party to wed another person until the common law marriage is legally dissolved. This means that the common law couple must be legally divorced or the common law marriage must be annulled prior to either party getting remarried (whether through another common law marriage or going through the legal marriage process).

Whether or not a common law marriage exists could also have an impact on paternity of children born to the couple, the ability of one parent to seek custody and the ability of either parent to seek child support from the other. It is important to determine if your relationship meets the criteria for a common law marriage prior to a split; ending the relationship in the wrong way could jeopardize your legal options for access to your children.

Do you need answers?

Are you involved in a common law marriage? Do you have questions about how your status could affect disputes between you and your partner in regards to custody, child support, spousal support or property division? Would you like more information about considerations unique to the common law marriage process? An experienced Colorado family law attorney can give you more information about what your legal status means and how you and your common law spouse can legally end your relationship without sacrificing your future rights.