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Common Law Marriage (page 1)

Unlike legal advice, these articles will not help you to directly apply the law to your unique situation. Contact us if you wish to schedule a consult for legal advice.

Colorado is one of only a handful of states that still recognizes common law marriage and confers on the parties to the common law marriage the same rights and obligations as if they had been married by ceremony. The purpose of recognizing common law marriage is to protect the interests of parties who have acted in good faith as husband and wife. Do not make the mistake of believing  that there is "common law divorce." To get a divorce you must go through the courts.


Therefore, if the parties either agree that a common law marriage exists between them or a common law marriage is found to exist by the court, the parties will have all the same rights and obligations as parties to a valid ceremonial marriage. In cases of divorce (otherwise known as dissolution of marriage), or legal separation this means potential rights to spousal maintenance, division of “marital” property and debts, child support, and  parental responsibilities, will all need to be addressed. In non-divorce situations, it also means potential rights to inherit from a deceased common law spouse. The same divorce process must be followed for common law marriages as for ceremonial marriages.


Under Colorado law, there is no required length of time for the parties to be together before a common law marriage may be asserted. Instead, unless the parties mutually agree they are common law married, proof of the existence of a common law marriage requires a showing to the court of both proof of the parties’ mutual intent to be currently married (as opposed to the intent to be married in the future), and evidence of “general report” that they are married (i.e. that they have held themselves out to the general

community as being married). It must be continuous and regular. Consistency is one of the hallmarks.


In cases of divorce or legal separation, where one of the parties is denying the existence of a common law marriage or in cases of a probate action where one of the parties is deceased, the existence of the mutual intent to be presently married may be inferred from evidence of the parties’ behavior. Such evidence must generally include proof of cohabitation, as well as other proof of the intent to be common law married (such as one party taking the other’s last name, referring to each other as husband and wife to members of the general community, purchasing property in both parties’ names, obtaining joint bank accounts, filing of joint tax returns, etc.). However, except for proof of cohabitation, there is no one specific form that such evidence must take and the evidence may include any behavior of the parties that demonstrates an intent to be presently married.  On the other hand, mere cohabitation without other proof of the parties’ mutual intent to be presently married will generally not be sufficient to establish the existence of a common law marriage.


Common law marriages entered into in Colorado will not be deemed valid if either of the parties was under the age of 18 years when the marriage was entered into or if the marriage was otherwise prohibited by law at the time it was entered into (such as a marriage between blood relatives, or where one of the parties was already married to another person at the time the common law marriage was entered into).