Most people know what legal marriage is because it traditionally involves a wedding ceremony and celebration with family and friends. Many people, however, are not familiar with the concept of common-law marriage and how that might influence a relationship in Colorado.
Increasingly, couples are choosing to live together before marriage. Some of them have no intention of ever getting married. In fact, in 2018, over 15% of people between the ages of 24 to 34 lived with one another without being legally married. This statistic signifies a considerable increase from the .1% of the population who held this view 50 years ago.
In some instances, couples will live together and meet the grounds for common-law marriage in Colorado without even realizing it. Some may be wondering how, since there was never a formal wedding license much less a ceremony.
How Does Colorado Define Common-Law Marriage?
Courts look at a set of factors in determining whether or not a couple is married without a marriage license. While no single factor is determinative, each factor behaves as a balancing test. Some, but not all, of these factors include:
- Whether the couple lived together;
- Whether the couple agreed to live as though they were married;
- Whether the couple intended to get married;
- Whether the couple applied for health insurance together;
- Whether the couple filed their state and federal tax returns jointly;
- Whether the couple had any joint bank accounts; or
- Whether the couple held themselves out to the community as being married.
As you can imagine, gray areas exist. However, per the Colorado Supreme Court, specific kinds of evidence can support one spouse's claim that they were in a common-law marriage. For example, joint credit card accounts, joint bank accounts, filing tax returns together, joint property ownership, wearing what appears to be a wedding ring, and using the same last name are all examples of evidence. Testimony from witnesses who believed the couple to be legally married can also hold a lot of weight for a court determining whether a common law marriage existed.
Likewise, commitment and/or religious marriage ceremonies are also evidence that a common-law marriage exists.
Benefits of Common-Law Marriage
There are many different reasons you might consider establishing a common-law marriage. You may be entitled to support payments upon divorce if the other person was the primary breadwinner. Remember though, spousal maintenance in Colorado is also needs-based. You might be concerned about your partner refusing to give you certain items that belonged to you if the relationship ends. This could include equity in a house that the two of you both paid for throughout the years, even if the house is in only one person's name. If the person you live with passes away, you may be worried about the lack of estate planning efforts on his or her part. And if a common law marriage is found by the court, there is a presumption the common law spouse is entitled to at least a portion of the estate of the deceased person to whom they were common law married.
Divorce and Common-Law Marriage
For the most part, whether or not a couple has a common-law marriage is not an issue until separation is on the table. In fact, at this moment you may have been searching for “divorce lawyers near me” only to discover this exact information.
When a couple who has been living together decides to separate, they usually deal with the same questions a married couple going through a divorce faces. These include:
- How to Divide Property
- How to Work Out a Parenting Plan if They Have Children
- Who gets the cat and/or the dog
If either party believes there exists a common law marriage, and that person files for divorce, the other party may file a motion to dismiss the petition for divorce stating there is no marriage. At that point, the court will hold a hearing to determine whether a common law marriage exists. However, the person who files the petition for divorce, called a petition for dissolution of marriage in Colorado, bears the burden of submitting evidence to support his or her claim. Suppose the court determines that the relationship is a common-law marriage. In that case, they treat the dissolution of the relationship identically to that of traditionally married couples. In other words, the same rights and issues apply in their divorce process.
What if you're the one trying to dispute that a common-law marriage exists? Colorado's laws on common-law marriage will still be the fundamental area you will need to look to. When this happens, the parties will have to wait for the court to determine whether a marriage exists. Remember, the party claiming that a common-law marriage exists will bear the burden of proof.
If the court says that your relationship is a common-law marriage, the judge might order both parties to go to mediation, as one example. The same rules that impact legal marriages in Colorado related to property division and alimony will apply. In some states, the length of the relationship and cohabitation are the most critical factors for determining whether or not the parties were in a common-law marriage. However, in Colorado, a Court may be most concerned about the agreement and understanding between the two spouses and whether or not they believed themselves to be married. While important, it still may not be entirely dispositive. It's essentially a balancing test and many of the factors are listed above.
It can come as a shock if your partner says that they intend to get the relationship classified as a common-law marriage when you decide to dissolve it. If that happens, you may need a Colorado divorce lawyer to help you move forward and to assist you with each aspect of your case. Without an attorney, you will need to quickly become familiar with Colorado family law if the judge decides that you were in a common-law marriage.
Let The Drake Law Firm Help Protect Your Rights During the Dissolution of Your Common-Law Marriage
When you search for “divorce lawyers near me” and have more questions about common-law marriage in Colorado, schedule an initial consultation with The Drake Law Firm to learn more by calling (303) 261-8111 or completing our online form.
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