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Family Law Basics: common law marriage
Family Law Basics: common law marriage

Colorado is one of nine states that recognizes common law marriage. This is an area of the law that seems simple, but can be very challenging to deal with when a divorce is looming.

The basic requirements of a common law marriage in Colorado are that a couple agrees to be married, that they have the ability to consent to the marriage, that they have lived together, and that they hold themselves out to the world as married.  Like many issues in family law, each of these elements can become complicated when the marriage ends.

The misconceptions about common law marriage are generally about how long a couple has to reside together.  There is no minimum length of cohabitation.  You can live with someone for ten years and not be married, or you can be married after living together for a week.   All the factors need to be in existence for a marriage to exist.

When it comes to litigation, the challenge is generally to determine whether the couple agreed to be married and held themselves out as married.  Many couples live together or own property together, but are not married.  What the Court has to discover is whether the couple lived in the world as spouses.

The types of evidence the Court will include are legal documents, the testimony of friends and others who understood the couple to be married, and documents that show that the parties agreed to be married.  Again, this sounds straightforward, but can be difficult to prove if one person states that the parties weren’t married.

Why does this issue go to litigation? Well, if two parties have been living together in a house that is only titled to one of them, there will be property issues when they break up.  The partner who holds the title is not likely to want to give up his or her equity in the house to their ex.  The other partner, who has likely contributed to that equity, doesn’t want to be shut out of that property interest.

Colorado never requires a party to have a lawyer, but common law marriage is one area that really needs expert advice and strategy.

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