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 any other type of divorce. The only major difference is that, unlike a traditional divorce, you may be asked to prove your marital status in front of the judges should the other party chose to deny it.
Here’s how to file for a common law divorce in Colorado
- Build a legal case for residing in a common law marriage
- Prepare and file the standard divorce paperwork
- Negotiate property and debt division scenarios
- Reach a settlement with your spouse
1. Think How to Prove Your Common Law Marriage in Colorado
The most crucial step to take is to determine, alongside a Colorado family law attorney, whether you were involved in a common law marriage. And then, you can assess how to separate your finances further and day-to-day life from your former partner to legally separate to allow both you and your former partner to move forward.
Remember, one of the main Colorado court requirements for common marriage law validity is mutual agreement on this status.
Hence, if your partner chooses to contest it, you may need to attend court hearings and obtain a judicial ruling that recognizes your common law marriage. Once it is granted, you will be able to proceed with the divorce.
In case of a court hearing, 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 and financial affairs
- Witness statements from the community
And any other documents your divorce attorney will recommend bringing to strengthen your case.
Important caveat: Colorado courts do not treat any type of promise to marry in the future, engagement status, or a prenuptial agreement as valid proof of a common law marriage.
2. Prepare and File Divorce Paperwork
If you and your spouse mutually agree on the validity of your common law marriage (or have a court-issued decision), then you will need to prepare the standard divorce paperwork:
- Petition For Dissolution of Marriage
- Summons Form (if you are filing separately)
After submitting the above documents to a county clerk, the court will appoint an Initial Status Conference (ISC) date.
By that time, you will have to prepare several additional documents such as:
- Sworn Financial Statement
- Separation Agreement
- Certificate of Compliance
- Parenting Plan and Child Support Worksheets (if you have children)
The above documents will detail all the arrangements you’ve reached with your spouse regarding property division, visitation, or child custody. If your parting is uncontested, the entire process should go fast and smooth.
Of course, if the matters move on to this stage of disagreement, it’s best to get help from a qualified Colorado divorce attorney.
3. Negotiate Division of Property and Debt in Common Law Divorce
Within your common marriage, any item of value obtained after the couple mutually agreed they were a married couple will be treated as marital property. With few exceptions, the court will divide this property as evenly as possible between the two parties.
What is considered marital property?
- An item purchased by one person or registered in one person’s name is 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. Both parties share any debt taken on during a common law marriage. This is true even for debt that is not in the other person’s name.
You can learn more about asset division in Colorado divorce from our previous post.
4. Reach A Settlement With Your Common Law Spouse
Reaching an agreement on the terms of your separation outside of the courtroom will significantly reduce the time, emotional tool, and cost of your divorce.
Since Colorado court has a minimal 90 day waiting period for divorce (with further extensions to be granted on a per case basis), you have ample time to negotiate a settlement with the help of an experienced attorney.
Alternatively, you can also opt for divorce mediation — also a less grueling option than in-court appearances.
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 ensure that you can get the best outcome for your case.
FAQs about Colorado Common Law Marriage & Divorce
Here are several common questions about common law marriage and divorce in Colorado with answers:
How Long Do You Have To Be Together For Common Law Marriage In Colorado?
There’s no legal minimal relationship duration for a common law marriage. Instead, Colorado courts rely on other circumstantial factors such as the couple’s social presence as a married couple, shared symbols of commitment, and joint financial obligations, among others. Of course, most of these circumstances don’t happen in a day or even a month in many cases. Hence, by proxy, a common law marriage does require a specific duration.
Is Common Law Marriage Legally Binding?
Yes, Colorado views common law marriages as legally binding commitments. Meaning each spouse has personal and joint legal rights and obligations just like spouses in a traditional marriage would.
Is A Common-Law Partner Entitled To Anything?
Yes, common-law partners can exercise the same legal claims as legally wedded spouses regarding property and debt division, estate planning, child support, and visitation.
How Is A Common Law Marriage Dissolved?
The only way to dissolve a common law marriage is to file for a legal divorce in Colorado. Without doing so, couples may find themselves in an unfortunate situation where a former partner makes claims post-separation.