- About Us
- Practice Areas
- Fees & Costs
- Client Resources
- Contact Us
One of the few states in the U.S. that accepts common-law unions is Colorado. These kinds of unions often do not involve a traditional wedding ceremony or legal documentation. However, Colorado state law stipulates that a common law couple has the same rights and obligations as a couple that marries publicly. In other words, a common law marriage in Colorado is identical to a formal marriage, and the only way to dissolve it is by filing for divorce. In the Denver area, the legal team at Woody Law Firm, LLC, can help those looking to dissolve these marriages reach a proper settlement.
A common law marriage is created when two people openly and voluntarily assume they are married to one another and agree to be treated as husband and wife. The partners representing themselves as husband and wife to family, friends, or neighbors would be the most significant behavioral evidence in favor of common-law marriage. A common law marriage could also be established by exchanging rings, holding a non-religious ceremony, having children, combining funds, or naming the other as a spouse on tax returns or insurance policies.
There is no distinction once it has been established that a common-law marriage exists. All the legal privileges and obligations that apply to married couples, such as pensions, insurance, and inheritance, also apply to a common-law couple. The Colorado Supreme Court has declared that it is unconstitutional to discriminate against common-law marriages, such as by providing different employee benefits or by refusing to rent to couples who are married in this way.
Similar to a typical divorce, a common law divorce will start the same. A lawyer will consider any joint finances and if a couple shares any children in addition to other factors. The attorney will assist their clients in filing the petition for dissolution of marriage and any other required paperwork. They will also conduct a thorough investigation to see whether their client meets the requirements if their significant other asserts that they are in a common-law marriage, notwithstanding their disagreement. A common law marriage must be established as nonexistent before a divorce can be granted.
Mutual consent or agreement between the parties and an open conception of a married relationship are required to establish a common-law marriage. There is no time constraint or necessity, and anyone can prove these aspects by submitting evidence at a hearing, including a witness’ testimony. After one month, a common law marriage might exist; after thirty years, it might not. Not the duration of time, but the facts and conditions are what count.
A common law marriage and a traditional marriage have distinct conditions, but the outcome is the same. Consequently, a common law marriage is one that a court recognizes as valid even though the prospective spouses may not have satisfied the legal prerequisites for marriage, such as getting a marriage license. Courts handle common-law marriages the same way they handle statutory unions, but these factors help solidify a common-law marriage as legitimate:
Colorado is not a community property state in a divorce. As an equitable distribution state, meaning the court will divide all property in a manner deemed fair to both parties but not necessarily equally if spouses cannot come to a resolution on their own. Colorado is also a dual-property state, meaning the property can be defined as either marital or nonmarital. In a common law marriage, any property purchased by a couple will be equally divided between both spouses.
The divorce case may be dismissed if the court decides that the parties failed to create a valid marriage. The court may choose to keep the case going if the couple has kids to determine child support and a custody schedule. According to existing property regulations, the couple is dealt with similarly to other property owners when it comes to other assets.
A person who has cohabited with someone to whom they are not married, in the sincere belief that they were married to that individual, is known as a putative spouse. The person has the same rights as a legal spouse if the court determines that they meet the requirements to be considered a putative spouse. One party may assert they are a putative spouse even if the court decides that the parties failed to form a legally recognized marriage. The implication is that they might be eligible for alimony, a fair division of their assets, and Social Security benefits.
It’s crucial to understand that not all states in the U.S. recognize common-law marriages. This might provide unexpected outcomes and considerable uncertainty. For instance, a couple living together for 20 years in a state that does not recognize common-law marriage moved to Colorado, then divorced one year later. This couple would likely only be considered common law married for one year. Property division, debt distribution, and maintenance (sometimes known as “spousal support” or “alimony”) may all be significantly impacted by that.
In contrast, if a couple relocates to a state that does not accept common-law marriage after living together for 20 years in Colorado and then decides to get divorced, they might not be allowed to do so in that state. Recognizing common law marriages as legitimate varies from state to state, and unfortunately, moving out of Colorado while in a common law marriage could mean that two individuals will need to officially apply for marriage to be considered partners.
The divorce process is primarily the same once a marriage has been recognized by common law or by acquiring and obtaining a marriage license, with one significant exception: the court must determine if the parties are married. The existence of a marriage established through a certificate and ceremony is not in question unless one of the parties requests an annulment.
The court will probably order the parties to submit legal arguments and appear at a hearing if one party asserts that the connection is a common-law marriage and the other party contests that assertion. The court may issue temporary orders before the hearing concerning spousal support, child support, attorney fees, parental obligations and parenting time, payment of debts, and use of property that restricts detrimental behavior.
Preparing the necessary documentation for submission to the court is the first stage. Being the Petitioner, the party filing the pleas, or the Respondent has no advantages or disadvantages except potential concerns surrounding whether Colorado has jurisdiction over a spouse. It does not matter which spouse initiated the divorce; the complaint caption is the judge’s only consideration.
Courts will accept copies or scans of reasonable quality; those seeking dissolution are not required to appear and sign physically. Additionally, as of January 2018, it is no longer necessary to have any court documents notarized because they can now be self-verified. The opposite spouse must be served with the initial petitions or sign a waiver of service before the formal 91-day clock may be started, and the court can issue a decree of dissolution. It is a rare scenario, however, when both spouses are collaborating flawlessly, where all disclosures have been made, and agreements have been signed, and where we are simply waiting on day 91 for the court to issue the decree.
The district court judge will address all the same concerns as in a ceremonial marriage when ending a common law marriage because there are no separate proceedings for common law marriages in Colorado. These issues include:
While establishing a common law marriage in Colorado can be done without legal representation, ending it necessitates a court-supervised divorce, just like it does for couples who legally wed in a religious ceremony. Finding a divorce lawyer is always a good idea for facing divorce proceedings, common law, and traditional marriages.
If both partners join into a legally recognized marriage or civil union agreement (in any state), one partner had resided in Colorado for at least 91 days before filing for dissolution, or the agreement was entered in Colorado, then the same-sex couple can file for a legal dissolution of marriage or civil union. Regarding legally recognized same-sex marriages and civil unions, Colorado law is clear. The situation for gay and lesbian couples who had common-law marriages, particularly those that took place before the Obergefell v. Hodges decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015, which mandates that all states recognize and license same-sex unions, was murkier.
After the Obergefell (2015) ruling, same-sex common-law marriages in Colorado had to be recognized by the law as if they had always been recognized. When deciding whether a common-law marriage exists, the court looks at whether the partners’ conduct showed a mutual agreement. The court considers the partner’s conduct in the context of all the circumstances because a simple agreement is not always sufficient to establish a common-law marriage.
For those in long-term relationships, common-law marriage might seem like an easy, fast way to become a legally recognized partnership; however, the intricacies of traditional marriage are still present in a common-law marriage, and the divorce process for both is the same. At Woody Law Firm, LLC, we can help those in common law marriages go through the divorce process, ensuring the same process as those in other domestic partnerships. For more information on our divorce services, contact us today to schedule a consultation with our team.