Your Guide to Common Law Marriage Colorado


What is a common law marriage?

A common law marriage is a legally recognized marriage that is established without having a ceremony or obtaining a marriage license from the state. The key difference between a common law marriage and other committed relationships is that there must be an intention by both people to actually be married. Simply living together, even for a long time, does not qualify as a common law marriage. The courts ultimately decide whether or not a common law marriage exists when legal issues arise, like in a divorce or benefits claim case.

Why is there uncertainty and court involvement?

Since common law marriages lack the official documentation of a licensed marriage, the validity of the relationship comes into question when legal rights or benefits are sought. The courts have to examine the circumstances and evidence to determine if a lawful common law marriage existed.

Establishing a Common Law Marriage in Colorado

Several essential elements must be present in order to establish a legally recognized common law marriage in Colorado:

  • Cohabitation – living together for an extended period of time
  • Public presentation as spouses – introducing your partner as your husband/wife/spouse
  • Shared finances and joint benefits – joint bank accounts, assets, insurance plans
  • Legal capacity to marry – meeting age requirements, not still married to someone else
  • Mutual agreement to be married – intent and consent to be spouses by both partners
  • No specific time requirement – can form quickly or evolve over many years

Solid evidence is crucial to demonstrate these elements to the satisfaction of the courts.

Determining Validity of the Marriage in Colorado

The validity of a common law marriage is often determined during court proceedings like a divorce case or inherence dispute. It may also be examined by government agencies like Social Security when one partner applies for benefits after the other partner dies.

  • In court cases, the judge looks at all the evidence and makes a ruling on whether a legal marriage existed.
  • For government benefit applications, the agency makes an initial determination that can be appealed to an administrative law court.

In both settings, the decision-makers use a multi-factor analysis to reach a conclusion. No single factor, like cohabitation or using the same last name, is enough by itself to establish a common law marriage. All the evidence and circumstances must be weighed.

Ending a Common Law Marriage in Colorado

To legally terminate a common law marriage, you cannot simply separate, move out, or stop presenting yourselves as a married couple. The same formal procedures must be followed as ending a licensed marriage:

  • Filing for divorce or annulment
  • Having the marriage relationship legally confirmed during the divorce proceedings
  • Addressing child custody, spousal support, property division and other relevant issues

In this respect, ending a common law marriage is essentially the same as a regular divorce process.

Ending a Common Law Marriage in Colorado

Interstate Recognition

When a common law marriage is validly formed in Colorado, that marital status continues to be recognized in other U.S. states. So if a couple in a Colorado common law marriage moves to another state, their marriage will still be lawful.

However, some differences exist among states regarding the creation of new common law marriages:

  • Some states allow new common law marriages to be initiated by their residents
  • Others, like Colorado, only recognize common law marriages that were created in states that allow it
  • A couple in the latter states may need to relocate to a state permitting new common law marriages to establish marital status

Comparison to Formal Marriage

Once proof of a common law marriage is established in Colorado, that marriage has the same legal rights and responsibilities as a formally licensed marriage, including:

  • Equivalent rights and benefits for spouses
  • Identical obligations and duties under the law
  • Protected status against discrimination based on marital status

In fact, Colorado law prohibits unconstitutional discrimination against valid common law marriages. They must be treated the same as ceremonial marriages.

Additional Considerations

Potential advantages of common law marriage:

  • Less expensive and complicated than formal weddings
  • Flexible transition to married life without paperwork

Potential disadvantages:

  • Uncertainty about validity of marital status
  • Lack of marriage certificate as proof
  • Need to prove marriage in legal proceedings

Evidence gathering is important to prove a common law marriage. Strategies include:

  • Joint financial documents – bank/asset records, deeds, bills, tax returns
  • Shared insurance and beneficiary designations
  • Written or social media references to marital status
  • Sworn statements by friends/family about couple’s status

Tax implications: Common law married couples can file joint income tax returns and take advantage of marriage-based exemptions and deductions.

Same-sex couples must have established their common law marriage after [applicable date] for it to be legally recognized. Prior to this, same-sex couples in Colorado maintained committed relationships but did not meet the legal definition of common law marriage.

Alternatives like domestic partnerships and civil unions provide some spousal-type rights and responsibilities outside of marriage.


In summary, while uncommon, Colorado does recognize common law marriages that meet certain evidentiary standards. The validity is determined on a case-by-case basis by courts or agencies. Common law spouses share equivalent rights and duties to those in ceremonial marriages once the marital status is proven. Anyone considering this path is wise to fully understand the implications and seek legal counsel.