Debunking Common Law Marriage in Colorado

It is my experience that people are often confused when it comes to common law marriage in Colorado. I’ve heard many beliefs about common law marriage that are just plain wrong. The most popular of them being that there is a time requirement for common law marriage. There is no time requirement for common law marriage. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in a relationship with someone for fifty years; if you don’t hold yourself out to be married, you are not in a common law marriage. Here are the requirements for common law marriage:

You and your partner can legally enter into a marriage (typically this means you are at least 18 years old and not already married)

You and your partner live together. Again, there is no time requirement for this.

You and your partner hold yourselves out as a married couple. This can mean you refer to each other as “husband” or “wife,” your friends & neighbors generally view you as a married couple, you own property jointly, file taxes jointly, wear rings, or maybe you’ve even gone through a wedding-type of ceremony.

The question of whether or not you are in a common law marriage usually comes up when a couple breaks up or one of the partners dies. If you are in a common law marriage it is, for all intents and purposes, a valid legal marriage. Which means you have to get divorced. Which means you will have to go through the court system to divide up property and possibly be subject to paying spousal support. Similarly, Colorado’s intestate succession laws (the laws that apply if somebody dies without a will) say that a surviving spouse gets to inherit most, if not all, of the decedent spouse’s estate. So a surviving spouse in a common law marriage may need to prove to the court that he or she was, in fact, in a common law marriage in order to inherit any assets.

Only a few states recognize common law marriage. Colorado is one of them. However, most states (actually, probably all states, but I’m too lazy to check the laws of every single state) will honor a marriage that was legally entered into in another state. That’s why you don’t have to get married again every time you and your spouse move to another state. So if you live in Colorado and are in a common law marriage, then you move to a state that does not recognize it, that new state may still consider you to be legally married since you entered into a valid legal marriage in another state.

If you live in a common law marriage state and do not want to be in a common law marriage, it’s a good idea to have some kind of a written agreement with your partner as evidence of your intent to not be in a marriage. This can be similar to a co-habitation agreement (kind of like a pre-marital agreement, but without the marital part), where you agree that you are living together but will not be married, and you can agree ahead of time on how any jointly-owned property will be divided if you split up.