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Colorado Common Law Marriage

What is Common-Law Marriage in Colorado?

Common-law marriage in Colorado is a union established by two consenting and capable parties who assume all roles and benefits of a marriage relationship without any religious or formal ceremony. Existing in the country since the 19th century, common-law marriages allow couples to enter into a union without spending money on licenses or a ceremony by simply living together and holding themselves out as husband and wife to friends, family, and the community. Some of the several benefits of a common-law marriage include:

  • Rights to property, alimony, or child custody rights upon divorce
  • Ability to inherit
  • Payment of marital debts
  • Rights to insurance, worker’s compensation, or pension
  • Ability to receive healthcare and Social Security benefits
  • Right to tax exemptions
  • Hospital and jail visitation
  • Responsibility as a partner’s guardian, personal representative, or priority conservator
  • Ability to adopt a spouse’s child
  • Eligibility to receive family leave benefits

However, persons married by common-law may face the following problems:

  • The difficulty for one spouse to prove marriage without legal documents
  • Difficulty in proving the marriage with one party denying intent to marry
  • The union cannot be formalized with a marriage certificate or license, only an affidavit
  • Complications in claiming some marital benefits without document

For a common-law marriage to be recognized in Colorado, the parties must be at least 18 years of age at the time of the marriage, and the union must not be bigamous or incestuous by nature. Proving the union may require parties to meet other conditions set by the state.

Note: Not all states recognize or practice common-law marriages, and unions in states that do not recognize common-law marriages may render the union invalid.

Marriage in Colorado

7.3 out of 1,000 residents in Colorado were married in 2019. Within the same year, the divorce rate in Colorado was 3.3 out of every 1,000 residents.

Does Colorado Recognize Common-Law Marriage?

Yes, Colorado is one of the few states in the United States that fully recognize common-law marriages. In line with C.R.S. § 14-2-109.5, valid common-law marriages established in the state on or after September 1, 2006, are recognized in Colorado. Couples that enter into common-law marriages must satisfy the state's requirements and ensure that there are no laws prohibiting the marriage.

In accordance with the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the state also acknowledges the legitimacy of valid common-law marriages recognized in states where the union took place. Furthermore, the state of Colorado also allows civil unions in the state.

What is a Civil Union in Colorado?

A Colorado civil union is a legal partnership established under the Colorado Civil Union Act. Effective May 1, 2013, same-sex and different-sex couples can apply for civil union licenses to assume the legal benefits, duties, and protections that are granted to married couples, such as:

  • Ability to adopt a spouse’s child
  • Ability to inherit a partner's real and personal property
  • Ability to make decisions concerning a partner’s medical treatment and care
  • A partner’s financial assistance
  • Eligibility to receive family leave benefits
  • Responsibility as a partner’s guardian, personal representative, or priority conservator
  • Rights to insurance, worker’s compensation, or pension/retirement funds
  • Ability to receive Social Security Survivor’s benefits, government pensions, and worker’s compensation
  • Right to property and tax exemptions
  • Hospital and jail visitation

Applicants for a civil union must:

  • Be at least 18 years of age. A party that has a legal guardian must provide written consent.
  • Not be in a civil union or marriage with anyone at the time of marriage
  • Not be blood relatives as described by the law
  • Provide documents and information required for application

In compliance with C.R.S. § 14-15-103, persons who establish a civil union in the state will get a civil union certificate certifying the union in the state.

What are the Requirements for a Common-Law Marriage in Colorado?

According to C.R.S. § 14-2-109.5, couples that enter into common-law marriages in Colorado from September 1, 2006, have to be at least 18 years of age and satisfy other requirements such as:

  • Parties must not be blood relatives such as siblings, aunt-nephew, and uncle-niece.
  • Parties must not be in a civil union or marriage at the time of the marriage
  • Underage parties between 16 and 18 years of age must receive consent from the appropriate parent or guardian.
  • There must be mutual consent and intent to be married

Colorado does not have any residency requirements to turn cohabitation into a common-law marriage. Intending partners should express mutual agreement to be married and present themselves as husband and wife to family, friends, and community. However, cohabitation may strengthen the case when proving a common-law marriage.

How Many Years Do You Have to Live Together for Common-Law Marriage in Colorado?

Establishing a common-law marriage in Colorado does not require cohabitation for a stated period. Time lived together alone does not transform cohabitation into a common-law marriage unless the couple agreed to enter a marriage and introduce themselves as husband and wife in public.

What Does It Mean to Be Legally Free to Marry in Colorado?

In Colorado, being legally free to marry means that both parties have no legal impediments or prohibitions that may render the common-law marriage void. According to C.R.S. § 14-2-109.5 and C.R.S. § 14-2-110, the following marriages are prohibited:

  • Marriages established before the dissolution of an earlier marriage or currently valid civil union to other persons
  • Marriages between siblings, a parent/grandparent, and descendant, whether the relationship be by half or whole blood
  • Marriages between a nephew and aunt, or between a niece and uncle, whether the relationship be by half or whole blood, excluding unions authorized by aboriginal cultures' established conventions
  • Marriages with one or two parties under the age of 18, excluding cases where the party between 16 and 18 years of age received consent from the appropriate parent or guardian

What is Intent to Marry in Colorado?

Intent to marry is a determining factor in deciding common-law marriages. In Colorado, common-law marriages are not considered legal if both parties did not express mutual agreement to present themselves as husband and wife and share spousal duties. The couple must also publicly address themselves as spouses, including friends and family. This will be key in proving the marriage in the future when asked for legal indicators of any marital relationship between both parties.

What is an Informal Marriage in Colorado?

Informal marriage is a term used under Texas law to describe a marriage without formal ceremonies or obtaining licenses. It is the same as common-law marriages in Colorado.

How Do You Prove Common-Law Marriage in Colorado?

There is no definite formula for proving a common-law marriage in Colorado. However, interested persons must provide proof that all elements of a common-law marriage existed. It is easier to prove common-law marriages when both parties agree that there was a mutual agreement to enter a marital relationship and documents attesting to this exist. Further testimonies from family, friends, and community members saying that both had represented themselves as a married couple in public will also prove helpful. It is also essential to show that both parties were legally free to marry at the time of the marriage and had lived together as spouses in a committed and intimate relationship.

In cases where there are disputes, the contesting party may provide proof in the form of testimonies and documents to corroborate claims that both parties mutually intended to enter a marital relationship with evidence of mutual support and obligation. Evidence may include documents, contracts, certificates, photographs, and letters showing:

  • Shared financial responsibility such as joint accounts, joint tax returns, or jointly-owned property
  • The woman and kids registered or listed as the man’s spouse and children
  • Sharing of surname (with full knowledge/permission of both spouses)
  • Symbols of commitment such as wedding rings, ceremony, gifts, and anniversaries
  • The spouse listed as husband or wife on insurance, pension, or benefit forms
  • One party designated as the other party’s beneficiary or emergency contact

Note that the court will determine if persons had a common-law marriage in legal cases like divorce or inheritance. However, people who seek to obtain marital benefits like Social Security survivor's benefits will leave the decision to the agency but can appeal the decision in court.

Third-party websites may provide a convenient solution to obtaining older public vital records. These non-governmental platforms come with intuitive search tools that help simplify the process of accessing single or multiple records. However, record availability on third-party sites tends to vary because they’re independent of government sources. To obtain public marriage records, requesters may need to provide:

  • The full name of both spouses (including first, middle, and last names)
  • The date the marriage occurred (month, date, and year)
  • The location where the marriage occurred (city and county)

How Do You Prove Common-Law Marriage in Colorado After Death?

Proving a common-law marriage after one or both spouses’ death may rely on the availability of documents and testimonies proving the spousal relationship. The evidence should show that the couple had a mutual agreement to marry, lived together as husband and wife, and had a reputation as a married couple among family, friends, and the community. Examples of acceptable evidence may include:

  • Testimonies from family, friends, and members of the community confirming the couple's marital relationship in public, labels for one another, and beliefs regarding the marriage institution
  • Symbols of commitment such as wedding rings, ceremony, gifts, and anniversaries
  • Cohabitation and proof of shared financial responsibility such as shared expenses, shared household duties, and joint accounts
  • Co-owned property, joint leases, rental agreements, and joint estate planning
  • Shared surname and registration of both parties as married or spouse on joint tax returns, insurance, or benefit forms
  • A birth certificate naming parties as the parents of a child
  • One party designated as the other party’s beneficiary or emergency contact

Do Common-Law Marriages Require a Divorce?

Common-law marriages in Colorado require a divorce to legally terminate the relationship. Since there is no specific common-law dissolution process, spouses must follow the Colorado divorce laws, which grant the same type of legal rights under the law. In some cases, marital dissolution may require the couple to prove the union first, making the process more complicated.

Does a Common-Law Wife Have Rights in Colorado?

A common-law wife in Colorado has the same right as other legally married wives in the state. With the absence of premarital agreements, common-law wives have the following rights in compliance with C.R.S. § 14-2-302:

  • Spousal maintenance or support
  • Property rights such as ownership, management, and characterization
  • Responsibility for a liability
  • Property right and responsibility for liabilities upon spouse’s death, marital dissolution, or legal separation
  • Allocation and award of attorney's costs and fees

Premarital or prenuptial agreements are documents signed by the intended couple that define, change, or waive a marital right or duty throughout the marriage or upon divorce, legal separation, or spouse’s death, or the occurrence or nonoccurrence of any other event. The rights of common-law wives who signed a prenup depend on the terms of the agreements.

Can a Common-Law Wife Collect Social Security in Colorado?

Common-law spouses can collect social security spousal or survivor benefits in Colorado. The U.S. The Social Security Administration recognizes common-law marriages that took place in Colorado – and in other states that recognize the union – as long as parties meet the validity requirements. Hence, applicants must have:

  • Entered the marriage on or after September 1, 2006
  • Been at least 18 years at the time of marriage (both spouses); and
  • The union must not be bigamous or incestuous by nature

Eligible persons will have to submit a Statement of Marital Relationship form, along with proof of marriage in the form of a Statement Regarding Marriage. The number of statements may vary according to the following:

  • Four statements if both parties are alive; one each from the husband, wife, husband's blood relative, and wife's blood relative
  • Three statements if a spouse is deceased; one each from the surviving spouse, and two of the deceased spouse's blood relatives
  • Two statements if both parties are no longer living; one from the husband's blood relative and one from the wife's blood relative

Are Common-Law Wives Entitled to Half in Colorado?

Common-law wives are entitled to equitable distribution of marital property in Colorado. The property split is not necessarily 50-50, but the court shall divide assets – and debts - as it deems equitable or fair, while considering all relevant factors, such as:

  • Presence or absence of premarital agreement
  • Presence or absence of settlement agreement
  • Each spouse's contribution to the acquisition of marital property
  • The value of the asset set apart for each spouse
  • Any changes in the value of the spouse's separate property throughout the marriage, as well as the depletion of the separate property for marital reasons
  • Each spouse’s economic condition at the time the property division will take effect, including the merit of awarding the family home to the spouse with the most child custody
  • Consideration of other matters such as child support, spousal support or alimony, and debt division

Marital property used in this context means all assets obtained by either spouse following the marriage ceremony, excluding:

  • Inherited, gifted, bequeathed, or devised properties
  • Properties obtained in exchange for assets obtained before the marriage or in exchange for inherited, gifted, bequeathed, or devised property
  • Properties gained by a spouse subsequent to a decree of legal separation
  • Properties excluded by a valid agreement between parties

How Do You Get a Common-Law Marriage Affidavit in Colorado?

Interested persons can complete and sign an affidavit of marriage in the presence of a notary public and file the form with a county clerk and recorder’s office in Colorado, particularly in the county of residence.

When Did Common-Law Marriage End in Colorado?

Common-law marriages have not ended in Colorado. The state still practices and recognizes valid common-law marriages established in Colorado since September 1, 2006.

What is Considered Common-Law Marriage in Colorado?

To be considered valid in Colorado, common-law marriages must:

  • Have been established on or after September 1, 2006
  • Have happened to parties at least 18 years of age
  • Involve parties expressing mutual agreement to present themselves as husband and wife and share spousal responsibilities
  • Have happened in other states where common-law marriage is recognized
  • Not be bigamous or incestuous by nature

Does the Federal Government Recognize Colorado Common-Law Marriages?

Yes, the federal government recognizes common-law marriages that happened in Colorado from September 1, 2006, and in other states where it is legal, including:

Other states where common-law marriage are recognized if they occurred within a set period include