Common law marriage is an agreement between two people that their relationship is a marriage. Colorado is one of the few states that recognize these unions as legally valid. When a couple in a common law marriage wishes to end that relationship, the state gives them the same rights as anyone that has been legally wed.
What Makes a Common Law Marriage Valid in Colorado
To be recognized as a common law marriage the couple must:
- Present themselves socially as a married couple
- Mutually agree that they are married
- Both be of legal marriage age (above 18 years)
- Live together
There is a common misconception that a couple is married under common law if they have lived together for a specified number of years. This isn’t true. A relationship can be recognized as a common law marriage at any time after the couple decided to start living together.
The key is that both parties agree that they are married and are recognized by others as a married couple. Witness testimonials to this fact will be admitted by Colorado courts, should the matters move to the courtroom. Couples also have the option of signing an affidavit of common law marriage in the presence of a notary. However, you can still be considered in a common law marriage without that document.
How to File for Common Law Divorce
Courts in Colorado handle common law divorce just as they do any other dissolution of marriage. It can also cost as little or as much as as any other divorce. To start the process, you will have to file a common petition for divorce and file any other required documents, detailing your arrangements regarding property division, visitation, or child custody. If your parting is uncontested, the entire process should go fast and smooth. However, there is one possible point of contention: if one of the parties denied that the marriage existed in the first place, the divorce proceeding can get complex.
In that case, you will need to present the witnesses and other evidence of the marriage such as:
- Joint bank accounts
- Joint asset ownership (including property, real estate, and other assets)
- Usage of the same last name by the other spouse and children
- Joint tax report filings
Of course, if the matters move on to this stage of disagreement, it’s best to get help from a qualified Colorado divorce attorney.
Division of Property And Debt in Common Law Divorce
Marital property is any item of value obtained after the couple mutually agreed they were a married couple. With few exceptions, the court will divide this property as evenly as possible between the two parties.
What is considered marital property?
- An item that is purchased by one person or registered in one person’s name is still marital property, even if the other party made no financial contribution towards it.
- Items obtained prior to marriage are usually not considered to be marital property, but there are exceptions.
Similar guidelines apply to debt. Any debt taken on during a common law marriage is shared by both parties. This is true even for debt that is not in the other person’s name.
When to Hire a Lawyer For a Common Law Divorce
It is almost always a good idea to seek advice from a lawyer during any type of divorce. The same holds for common law marriage. Keep in mind that there could be complications if one person denies the validity of the marriage, or claims that a common law marriage exists where it does not. You'll need a skilled attorney to navigate that and to ensure that you can get the best outcome for your case.