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Do you need a divorce after a common law marriage in Colorado?

For most people, their marriage begins after an engagement and a wedding ceremony, however small it may be. Whether the couple goes to the justice of the peace or has a large church wedding, the legal consequences of that marriage are the same. There will be a combination of witnesses and official paperwork to help validate the marriage.

Not everyone has a large wedding to mark the beginning of their marriage. In fact, there are some situations in which a couple never officially or formally choses to get married but still winds up legally bound to one another. When a couple becomes married by default due to the length and nature of their cohabitation and relationship, they have a common-law marriage.

Most states have stopped acknowledging common-law marriages, instead requiring that individuals seek a license if they want their marriage recognized. However, Colorado still recognizes common-law marriages, which could potentially complicate a break-up after a long-term relationship.

What are the qualifications for a common-law marriage in Colorado?

For a couple to enter into a common-law marriage in Colorado, their relationship needs to meet certain standards. The first and most important is that neither partner has a pre-existing marriage that would preclude them from marriage.

Someone who has an existing spouse, even if they have been separated for years, cannot qualify for a common-law marriage. Basically, if an individual could qualify for a standard marriage license, they would potentially qualify for a common law marriage. Another factor is the age of the people involved. Both must be 18 years of age or older and able to make legal decisions on their own behalf.

Finally, they must both consent to the relationship and hold each other out to the public as their spouse. Calling one another husband and wife, sharing a checking account, cohabitating, filing joint tax paperwork, supporting each other financially or taking the other spouse's last name can all be factors in a common-law marriage. Although you may never officialize your relationship, if you are able to get married and treat one another as a spouse, the state of Colorado may view you as a married couple.

If you have a common-law marriage, you will need to go through a standard divorce

Although you may have gotten married without the direct involvement of the state through the common law statutes in Colorado, you cannot divorce as simply or quickly. The state will expect you to go through a standard divorce process even though you never formalized your marriage.

Requiring a formal end to an informal, common-law marriage protects both parties in a long-term relationship from an unfair end of that pairing. If you believe that your relationship qualified as a common-law marriage under Colorado law and you want to ensure a fair asset division process, you may need to handle your break-up like you would the end of a marriage and file for divorce.

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