Common law marriage has been recognized in Colorado for over 100 years. Yet, there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding common law marriage. Many of my clients have shared their misconceptions regarding common law marriage with me, during my time as a family law practitioner in Colorado. This article will address the three most common myths about common law marriage I have heard throughout my legal career.
The most pervasive myth I have heard regarding common law marriage is the belief that after a certain amount of time living with a significant other, one automatically becomes married by common law. People think common law marriage occurs after a couple lives together for 7 years or 10 years, or some other length of time. The concept that common law marriage occurs automatically after a certain length of time is entirely untrue. Common law marriage is not triggered by a couple living together for any specifically enumerated amount of time.
It is true, however, that cohabitating – or living together – at some point in time, is a major component to establishing a common law marriage. But no fixed amount of weeks, months, or years of cohabitation is necessary. A couple is married by common law in Colorado, if they mutually consent or agree to be married and subsequently behave in a manner that leads to the public’s belief the couple is married. Although there are many behaviors that help demonstrate a couple’s agreement to be married and that lead to the public’s belief the couple is married, a couple living together is among the most important.
The belief that a common law marriage occurs by having children with someone is another misconception surrounding common law marriage. Having children does not trigger the existence of a common law marriage. Also, a couple can be married by common law without have children together.
The last misconception about common law marriage I want to address is the belief that common law marriage is legally different from marriage created by ceremony and Colorado statute. It is important for Coloradans to understand that a marriage by common law is a perfectly valid marriage. Common law marriage is no different from walking down the aisle at a wedding ceremony and obtaining the appropriate statutory licenses.
Understanding common law marriage as a valid marriage under Colorado law becomes very important if a couple married by common law chooses to end their relationship. Once a common law marriage has been established, the couple must go through the dissolution of marriage (divorce) process or they will remain married.
Please speak to a lawyer if you have questions about common law marriage. Marriage by common law is no different from marriage in general. If you believe you are married by common law, it is important to understand your legal rights as they relate to your marriage, especially those related to the divorce process should that become necessary.