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Common Law Marriage in Colorado

People use the term “common law marriage” a lot, but few people truly understand what it means. A basic knowledge of common law marriage in Colorado is important, because it relates what happens when ending a long-term relationship. Learn the laws of common law marriage in the state and how they might affect property and asset division considering dissolution of the partnership.

What is a Common Law Marriage?

Common law marriage is essentially being deemed married without an official celebration. A couple will be married after a certain amount of time if they meet defined requirements. Many rules differ from state to state. Child custody for common law marriages varies so it is important to talk to a child custody lawyer.

A common law relationship evolves over time. The Colorado family courts generally determine if a relationship is common law by examining more than 100 previous court decisions on the subject. However, the Lucero case set a precedent that establishes criteria for common law marriages in Colorado. To have a common law marriage, a couple must:

  • Cohabitate.
  • Mutually agree they will marry.
  • Hold themselves in public as a married couple.

A working understanding of these definitions is essential. The agreement to be married, for example, need not be an express agreement, such as a formal affidavit of common law marriage (these are rare). It doesn’t even mean that the couple needs to be engaged or plan to become engaged. This makes proving the second element complicated. Unless both parties mutually agree on this condition, they generally need the assistance of family law attorney to help determine if their relationship follows the pattern of a common law marriage.

Possible Factors for a Common Law Marriage

No established time limit exists for establishing common law marriage, contrary to popular opinion. A couple could cohabitate for 20 years but still not fall under the criteria of common law marriage. On the other hand, a couple together for only a short time could fall under common law marriage criteria if they hold themselves in public as married. The state will look at some of the following factors to determine if a common law marriage exists:

  • If the couple has a reputation in the public as being married.
  • If they file joint tax returns.
  • They list their loved one as a spouse on insurance forms.
  • They have joint assets, such as a bank accounts or other property.
  • The woman takes the man’s surname, or the couple forms a hyphenated name.
  • The couple observes some informal aspect of a marriage, such as wearing a ring.

Even something as simple as a greeting card referring to a partner as a husband or a wife could help establish a common law marriage. No one factor weighs heavier than the other, but a combination of several factors might help establish a common law marriage. Simply living together is not enough to establish this relationship in a legal sense – it must go beyond simple cohabitation.

How Common Law Marriage Might Affect Dissolution of a Partnership

If the courts decide that a common law marriage exists, then the couple becomes subject to the divorce laws that apply in the state of Colorado. This means that they will have to go through the same process regarding alimony, child support, asset division, and equitable division or property as any other married couple.

Common law marriage can become a matter of hot debate, because the couple must decide when the marriage occurred for dividing marital property. Anything held together by the couple as marital property may be subject to equitable division, but separate property remains separate. Without an official record of the marriage, this point of time is often nebulous and requires assistance from a divorce attorney.

Common law marriages can be difficult to determine, and dissolutions difficult to navigate. This highlights the need for an experienced Colorado family law attorney.

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