Common Law Marriage & Divorce in Colorado

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By: Bill Henry
PublishedAug 31, 2021
3 minute read

A common-law marriage that ends tends to be more complicated than a union that went through the formal process. That’s probably not what you wanted to read, right? Well, the good news is our family law attorneys have helped many people who want a common-law marriage divorce.

Talk to a Common-Law Marriage Divorce Attorney 

Our Family Law Team can help you navigate the complicated process of common-law marriage divorce. Our divorce attorneys are a group of assertive, compassionate, and accomplished individuals with unique backgrounds that will help you reach a good outcome. Call 303-688-0944 to set up a case assessment, or click here if you would rather make the appointment on your own.

common-law marriage

Can I Divorce My Common-Law Spouse in Colorado?

There’s a common misconception that a common-law marriage is not eligible to go through the divorce process. In Colorado, divorcing spouses are entitled to the equitable division of their assets and debts. If they have children, the court requires a parenting plan to be established. Child support and alimony are also calculated, if applicable.

If you’re in a common-law marriage and you’re considering ending the relationship, we strongly advise you to consult a family law attorney to understand your rights and obligations under the law.

Common-Law Marriage Divorce vs. Other Divorces

Once a marriage has been established through common law or by obtaining and filing a marriage license, the divorce procedure is relatively the same, except for one major difference: the court must establish whether the parties are, in fact, married.

When a marriage is created through a license and ceremony, unless one party seeks an annulment, the marriage’s existence is not an issue.

If one party claims the relationship is a common-law marriage, but the other party disputes it, then the court will likely require the parties to file legal arguments and attend a hearing.

Before the hearing, the court may give temporary orders regarding:
  • spousal maintenance, child support, and attorney fees
  • parental responsibilities and parenting time
  • payment of debts and use of property
  • restricting harmful conduct

What is Common-Law Marriage?

For many years, Colorado courts gave a lot of weight to open cohabitation and whether the couple held themselves out as married in the community when it reviewed a common-law marriage claim. However, in January 2021, the Colorado Supreme Court updated the legal test for common-law marriage in Colorado.

…a common-law marriage may be established by the mutual consent or agreement of the couple to enter the legal and social institution of marriage, followed by conduct manifesting that mutual agreement. The core query is whether the parties intended to enter a marital relationship—that is, to share a life together as spouses in a committed, intimate relationship of mutual support and obligation. In assessing whether a common-law marriage has been established, courts should accord weight to evidence reflecting a couple’s express agreement to marry.  

In the absence of such evidence, the parties’ agreement to enter a marital relationship may be inferred from their conduct. When examining the parties’ conduct, the factors identified in Lucero can still be relevant to the inquiry, but they must be assessed in context; the inferences to be drawn from the parties’ conduct may vary depending on the circumstances. Finally, the manifestation of the parties’ agreement to marry need not take a particular form.
– Hogsett v. Neale, Colorado Supreme Court opinion, paragraph 3

Evidence for a Common-Law Marriage Can Include: 
  • cohabitation
  • hold themselves up as a married couple in the community
  • have banking or credit accounts together
  • purchase property together
  • file joint tax returns
  • share bills
  • joint estate planning, such as wills and powers of attorney
  • designate one another as an emergency contact or beneficiary
  • hold a commitment ceremony
  • celebrate anniversaries
  • referring to one another as husband, wife, or spouse

If the Court Finds a Common-Law Marriage

If the court rules that a legally recognized marriage was established, then the divorce will follow Colorado’s established dissolution of marriage laws and procedures. The common-law nature of the marital relationship at that point becomes immaterial.

If the Court Does Not Find a Common-Law Marriage

If the court rules that the parties did not establish a legally recognized marriage, the divorce matter may be dismissed.

If the couple has children, the court may continue the case to establish child support and a parenting plan. As far as other property goes, the couple is treated like any other property owner, according to established property laws.

Putative Spouse

Even if the court finds that the parties did not establish a legally recognized marriage, one party may claim that they are a putative spouse.

A putative spouse is someone who “has cohabitated with another to whom he or she is not legally married in the good faith belief that he or she was married to that person.” CRSA § 14-2-111 

If the court finds that the party qualifies as a putative spouse, then they have the same rights as a legal spouse. That means they could receive alimony, an equitable division of property, and collect benefits like Social Security.

We Can Help You

If you’re in a common-law marriage that has ended, it’s important to talk to a divorce attorney. You may be entitled to spousal support and other assets that you may not realize.

On the flip side, if you believe you are not in a common-law marriage, our family law attorneys will assertively protect your assets.

While the test for common-law marriage may have changed to make it a little easier to determine when someone is common law married, it is still a complex area of family law. Call 303-688-0944 to set up a 30-minute case assessment. You can also make that appointment yourself when you click here.

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