Posted by: Vernon Ready
When you have lived with a romantic partner for a number of years, your finances and property may become intermingled. This is normal. Because even though you may not officially be a married couple, living with someone for a long time tends to mimic the partnership and stability of marriage.
Many states recognize this type of relationship as a common law marriage, which can give you and your partner the same benefits as a married couple. But this kind of relationship, and its qualifications, varies state by state.
So how does it work here?
Short version: Colorado does recognize a common law marriage. However, there are qualifications that couples must meet in order to make a claim to that title.
In most cases, the title of “common law married” is only given to Coloradans who have gotten married but failed to obtain a marriage license. Beyond this, common law marriage in our state is only recognized and awarded to couples who establish themselves as husband and wife to the public.
This consensual, public relationship must be mutual, and must be a permanent decision (as in, you and your partner cannot go back and forth on legal documents about your marital status). You also must meet Colorado’s qualifications for marriage in general, including:
There are, however, exceptions. If, for example, a relationship that is openly considered a marriage dissolves (or one partner passes away) and one party did not know about the first party’s previous marriage, the second party may still be considered a “putative spouse.” Putative spouses have the same rights as legal spouses or partners involved in a common law marriage.
One final qualification: couples must cohabitate to be eligible for common law marriage. If you and your partner live separately, you are not married under the laws of Colorado.
It is important to note, however, that after moving in together there are no time restrictions that must be met in order to establish a common law marriage. In other words, whether you and your partner have lived together for five months or five years, you may still be considered common law married in our state.
What about children? Even if you and your partner have children together, you still have to establish yourselves publicly as husband and wife to receive the benefits of a common law marriage.
Maybe you and your partner have just not decided to walk down the aisle yet, but are in a committed relationship that shares assets and property. Or maybe you eloped in a place that did not require or provide you with a valid marriage license.
In these cases, a common law marriage would be beneficial. A common law marriage has all the same rights to property, benefits, and tax exemptions as a married couple.
Additionally, if your partner becomes ill or passes away, a common law marriage will also be beneficial. As the “spouse,” you will be treated as such during probate hearings and when dividing or transferring the estate.
There is no official ceremony or court proceeding needed to determine a common law marriage in Colorado. As long as you meet the other qualifications, you simply need to fill out and sign an affidavit of marriage in front of a notary to legally establish a common law marriage.
The complicated part comes if you need to prove your relationship as a common law marriage later on. For example, calling your partner your “husband,” yet failing to file tax reports as a married person, may cause a court to reject your claims as a partner in a common law marriage.
It is important to remember that consistency and clarity of your relationship with your partner is extremely important. Just like with a traditional marriage, common law marriage is a permanent commitment.
Where does same-sex marriage fit in?
Same-sex marriage became legal in Colorado in 2014, so it has been widely assumed that same-sex common law marriages may exist if the legal qualifications are met. If you and your partner have been involved in a common law marriage prior to 2014, however, it is important to contact a lawyer and discuss your options for the recognition of your marriage.
Common law marriages may begin in a different way than a traditional marriage, but they typically end with similar divorce proceedings. As long as you fit all of the qualifications of a common law marriage, you and your partner will have to go through all of the same divorce proceedings as couples that entered into a traditional marriage. You may even have to pay alimony and child support, or undergo property division in court.
For more information as to how a common law marriage applies to your relationship, or the proceedings of dissolving a common law marriage, contact a Colorado family lawyer today.
About the Author:
Vernon Ready is an award-winning Colorado lawyer with an in-depth understanding of all areas of family law, estate planning, and personal injury. His energetic and aggressive advocacy approach allow him to successfully navigate complex cases, including high asset divorce and complicated custody issues. During his time at the University of Colorado Law School, Ready won numerous awards for his trial advocacy skills. Since being admitted to practice in 2009, Ready has become well-known throughout Denver and the state for the passionate defense of his clients and his unparalleled understanding of the law.