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  • Writer's pictureCaitlin Callahan

What is Common Law Marriage?

Colorado is one of only a few states that recognizes common law marriage. Common law marriage is an informal, valid and legal approach to marriage. There does not need to be a formal marriage ceremony or a signed marriage license. Common law marriage only requires mutual consent (or an agreement between the two parties) and a mutual and open assumption that a marriage exists.

If either party disputes the existence of a common law marriage, the parties must have a validity of common law marriage hearing before they can get divorced. The court will need to determine if the couple held themselves out as married to their community.

Some factors that will serve as evidence of a common-law marriage include:

1. Co-habitation between the parties;

2. Having a reputation in the community as being married;

3. Having joint bank accounts;

4. Purchasing and owning property jointly;

5. Filing joint tax returns;

6. Using the same surname by both parties or by children born to the parties;

7. Social media posts referring to the other person as "spouse" or "wife/husband."

In Colorado there is no requisite time the couple needs to be together when establishing a common law marriage. As long as there is proof of the parties' intent to be married, the length of the relationship does not matter. The factors above will serve as guidelines of the parties' intent.

Once a common law marriage is established, all of the legally binding rights and benefits of a formal marriage apply, to include a potential award of spousal maintenance and division of retirement funds or other investments. All obligations of a marriage would also apply, which could include both parties' responsibility for debts incurred during the time the parties held themselves out as married.

If a common law marriage ends, the parties will have to go through a formal legal dissolution of marriage (divorce) through the court. Since a common law marriage is treated the same as a formal marriage, the same process will apply. The parties must obtain a formal divorce decree which generally includes a separation agreement and if the parties have children, a parenting plan. These documents will outline factors such as property division, debt allocation, parenting time schedules, spousal maintenance, and child support.

If you think you may or may not be common law married, we are happy to further discuss this with you.

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