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Common Law Marriage in Colorado

Colorado is one of the few remaining states that still recognizes common law marriages. That means that in order to be legally married in Colorado, it is not always necessary to obtain a marriage license or go through a formal ceremony. There are three elements to establishing a common law marriage. The parties must 1) live together, 2) agree that they are married, and 3) hold themselves out to the public as married. Once parties are common law married, they are legally married for all purposes, and subject to the same laws as any other married couple. There is no "common law divorce" and couples who are common law married must go through the same process for the dissolution of their marriage as couples who have obtained a marriage license.

Most issues involving common law marriage arise because one party believes that they are common law married and the other does not. In these cases, the most important factor the Court will consider is how the parties conducted themselves during their relationship. No one fact will be conclusive in whether or not there is a common law marriage, but courts will usually give weight (in no particular order) to the following:

Whether or not the parties filed taxes as married or single.

How the parties referred to each other (husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend)

What the parties' families and friends were told about the status of their relationship

Whether the parties were listed as spouses on insurance or employment benefits

Whether the parties had joint bank accounts and/or owned property together

Whether the parties listed each other as spouses on any official or government documents

If one party files for divorce and the other party denies that a marriage existed, courts will usuall hold a hearing to determine the status of the marriage early in the process, before proceeding with the remainder of the case. Making this determination can be very fact-intensive, and can have serious ramifications, such as affecting the status of property owned by either party, and regarding eligibility for maintenance. It is wise for anyone faced with a common law marriage issue to consult with an experienced family law attorney early in the process, in order to make sure that all of their rights and potential remedies are preserved.

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