Common Law Marriage

Colorado is one of the few states that recognize common law marriage. There is a lot of misinformation out there that I have heard. The biggest one is that you are common law marriage after being together for seven years (sometimes the number is different). This is not true. In Colorado, there is NO time period associated with being common law marriage.

If both you and your partner consider yourselves “married” at the time you go to the court to get a divorce, it makes things simpler. The complications arise when one of the partners believes there is a common law marriage and the other one says that there has never been any marriage at all.

The Colorado statutes regarding common law marriage is not very specific but there are cases where the court has set out various factors to look at to determine if there was a common law marriage. Some of the things that the court will look at are:

Whether you introduce the other person as your spouse

Whether people around you “thought” you were married

Whether you wore wedding rings

Whether you took the other person’s last name

Whether you filed joint tax returns

Many other possible factors

In a divorce situation, the court will first hold a separate hearing on whether there was a common law marriage at all. If the court finds that there was, then you can proceed with the divorce. If the court finds that there was no common law marriage, then the case is over. If there are children involved, the court can convert the case to an “APR” case which stands for allocation of parental responsibilities. That case is similar to a divorce in that the judge can order child support and parenting time, but the court cannot enter any orders dividing property or debt.

It is important to talk with an attorney when you are in a situation where there may or may not be a common law marriage. The position you take may be critical. For instance, if you say that there IS a common law marriage, and the other person agrees, then the court can make orders for you to pay maintenance (alimony) to the other person, give the other person a portion of your retirement benefits, bank account, real property, etc. If there is NO marriage, there can be no division of property or maintenance. Again, your “position” may be critical and you need to consult with an attorney before filing any paperwork.