Colorado is one of a handful of states that recognizes common law marriage, which is a shared agreement between two people that they are a married couple with a mutual and open assumption of a marital relationship. This means that two people who are living together as a married couple – but without the legal paperwork – are still recognized by the state as a legally married couple. If you are in a common law marriage but want to end the relationship, you have the same rights that a married person with a marriage license would.
Common Law Recognition
To be recognized as common law married in Colorado, the following circumstances to have to be met:
- Both parties must be over the age of 18
- Both parties must completely agree that they are a married couple
- Both parties must present themselves socially and legally as a married couple
- Both parties must live together as a married couple and agree that they are married to one another
The most significant part of proving a common marriage is the mutual consent: both parties must consider themselves a married couple. There is no set time a couple must live together to prove a common law marriage, so the idea that two people who live together for a long period of time are automatically common law married is false.
There are no set guidelines for a court to go by when it comes to a common law marriage, so the court will look at many factors when deciding if a common law marriage exists. Ultimately, it is down to the judge to decide if a common law marriage exists between two people.
Common Law Divorce
Colorado does not have a common law dissolution, so for a common law married couple to legally end their relationship, they need to use the same laws that a couple with a certificate would to divorce. When one person in a common law marriage files for common law divorce, the court will first determine whether a common law marriage existed, and this can be evidenced using many things. Insurance papers, tax returns and other documents can be used, for example, to show that a common or hyphenated last name was used. Friends and family members may have to testify as to the parties’ behavior as a married couple. Evidence of a common law marriage is important, particularly when one person is disputing the existence of a marital relationship.
Once the court recognizes the common law marriage, the parties will have to go through the common law divorce process. Matters such as property division, child custody and support, visitation, spousal support, debt division and other issues will have to be addressed. Both parties, with the help of their attorneys, can work together to try to create a settlement that handles all of these areas. If they are unable to reach an agreement, the judge may instead end up deciding matters for them.
Property and Debt Division
Marital assets such as the family home, shared bank accounts and other things of value are divided between both parties in a divorce. Generally, marital property consists of anything received after the marriage date. Individual property, such as something a person inherited from a relative before being considered common law married, stays with the receiving party. Both parties may come to an agreement on how to divide property on their own, or the court will make the decisions.
Debt is also divided in a common law divorce. As with property, debt acquired after the marriage is considered the obligation of both parties, while debt acquired before the marriage may not be. Both asset and debt division are meant to be fair and equitable, given the financial situations of both parties at the time of divorce.
Child Custody and Visitation
In Colorado, it’s the best interests of the child that guide the court when it comes to custody and visitation. The court will look at many things, including the child’s relationships with his or her parents and the mental and physical health of the parents and the child, when considering custody and visitation. As with other matters, the parties can reach an agreement on their own, or the judge can make the decision. Whatever is decided is worked into a document known as the parenting plan, and this plan outlines all custody and visitation matters.
Child and Spousal Support
Child support is meant to support a child financially, and it is based on the combined incomes of both parents and the child’s expenses, including educational and medical costs. This is usually a long-term obligation that lasts until the child turns 19. Spousal support, on the other hand, is money paid by one spouse to the other spouse on a temporary basis until the receiving spouse is able to support themselves. This type of support is usually awarded when there is a significant income disparity between both spouses.
A common law divorce in Colorado can be more complex simply because you will need to first prove that the marriage existed. If you need to end your common law marriage, speak to an experienced attorney at Burnham Law today.