You can be married in Colorado without having a ceremony, a reception, a ring, or a marriage license. The state of Colorado remains one of a handful of states that recognize the institution of “common law” marriage. But like other marriages, common law marriages don’t always work out. When that happens, does the couple simply break up as if they were dating or in a long-term relationship, or can they get a divorce, going through the same legal process and subject to the same laws and rules as other married couples?
The answer is that if you can in fact prove to a court that you are in a common law marriage, you can get a common law divorce.
What is Common Law Marriage in Colorado?
Some people think that if a Colorado couple has been together a long time, cohabitating, sharing bank accounts or property, or raising children together, they are in a common law marriage. While all of that can indeed be part of and indications that a couple is in such a marriage, it is not definitive.
For a couple to be considered as married and in a common law marriage in Colorado, the following facts must be established:
- Both parties must be over 18 years of age.
- Both parties must have agreed that they are husband and wife.
- Both parties must cohabitate as husband and wife after agreeing between themselves that they are husband and wife.
- Both parties must hold themselves out to the public at large as husband and wife.
- The marriage isn’t otherwise prohibited by law.
All of the foregoing are very fact-specific issues, and all will need to be either shown or agreed upon before a Colorado common law marriage will be deemed to exist.
A Common Law Marriage is a Marriage. A Common Law Divorce is a Divorce.
A common law marriage is a marriage. Period. The only distinctions are the elements that prove a couple is married. Instead of a marriage certificate or ceremony, there is the parties conduct as well as their personal and public acknowledgement that they are married. And a common law divorce is the same as any other divorce, with the parties having to go to court to resolve issues such as property division, maintenance, or child custody and support either by agreement or through a judge’s decisions. At the end of a common law divorce, a Final Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage will be entered, having the same power and effect as all other such orders.
Perhaps the only distinction is that if one party to a claimed common law marriage files for divorce and the other spouse denies that a common law marriage existed, the spouse claiming that there was a marriage will have to prove all of the necessary elements before the divorce can proceed. If they can’t, and a judge finds that there was not a valid common law marriage, the case will be dismissed and the parties will be left to sort out the end of their relationship as any unmarried couple would.
What if You Move Out of Colorado?
As noted, the overwhelming majority of states do not allow for common law marriage. However, all states abide by the principle that a marriage which is valid in another state will be recognized as valid there as well. This means that if a Colorado couple who satisfied all of the elements of a common law marriage move to another state and decide to seek a divorce, that new state’s courts will recognize the validity of that marriage (either through agreement or proof) and allow the parties to proceed with a divorce just as it would with any other couple married in another state.
While every marriage is different, common law marriages are largely the same as those that come with an official piece of paper and a large cake.