Are we married? Common law marriage in Colorado

By Denise M. Gonzales

Colorado is one of only a handful of states that recognize common-law marriage.  Common-law marriage is an informal marriage that is recognized based upon the parties living together and holding themselves out as a married couple.  Unlike a civil or religious marriage, there is no requirement that there be a ceremony or that a marriage certificate be formally recorded in Colorado.

Elements that support the existence of a common law marriage in Colorado include:

  1. Cohabitation (living together)
  2. Consent (mutual assent or agreement to be married)
  3. Repute (having the reputation within the community)
  4. Intent (conduct which openly demonstrates the intention of the parties that their relationship is that of a married couple)

There is no minimum length of time required to establish a common law marriage.  Living together and having the mutual intent to be married is enough in Colorado.  Because we cannot know what a person was thinking, it can be tricky when one person denies they intended to be married.  In those instances, intent can be inferred from the actions of the parties.  While there are no dispositive factors, a court will take into account several things to determine the parties’ intent, including:

  1. Joint ownership in property
  2. Joint bank accounts
  3. Joint credit cards or other debts
  4. Use of a one party’s surname by the other party or by their children
  5. Filing tax returns as “married”
  6. Listing the other as a spouse on insurance or benefit forms
  7. Wearing of rings
  8. Openly referring to the other as husband or wife

Once a common-law marriage is established, the only way it can be dissolved is through divorce or death of one spouse.  All obligations and benefits are available to both spouses, including payment of “marital” debts and rights to inheritance, property and alimony.  Having an experienced family law attorney on your side is essential to proving, or defending against, an allegation of a common law marriage.


From the March 2018 Pollart Miller Newsletter