Getting married can seem like a lot of time and money spent to establish a relationship that is already comfortable for two people. While some people grow up envisioning a large wedding, others would rather spend their money elsewhere.
Colorado is one of only a few states that recognize common law marriage. Some couples deliberately choose not to participate in a wedding because they expect they are establishing a common law marriage. More often, the claim that a common law marriage has been established arises based on a course of conduct that may not have been chosen with the deliberate intention of establishing a common law marriage.
Before you take steps like filing a joint tax return to save money or listing your significant other as your spouse on your health insurance or pursue a long term relationship in which you combine your financial and personal lives with another person, this is what you should know about common law marriage.
Establishing a relationship as a common law marriage
Compared to planning a wedding, common law marriage can seem extremely simple. A common myth is that couples must be in a relationship for a specified time before they qualify for common law marriage. According to Colorado law, a common-law marriage must meet a few conditions, including:
- Both parties over the age of 18
- Marriage would not be excluded under section 14-2-110 (which excludes marriages to close family members or to a second spouse while still married to the first one)
BOTH members of the couple also need to hold themselves out as being married out in the community. For some couples, this can be a source for disagreement but tends to include actions such as:
- Filing joint taxes
- Telling friends, family and other community members, they are married
- Including the other party on insurance as a spouse
- Wearing wedding rings
- Using the same last name
- Joint or family museum, club or other memberships
There is not an automatic formula or list of factors that lead to the conclusion that there is (or is not) a common law marriage. In any given case only some of the above elements may be present and there is also not a list of how many factors have to exist for the relationship to be a common law marriage.
Can my social media account establish common law marriage?
There is a significant list of options when it comes to declaring a relationship status on social media. For some, choosing a relationship status could have more to do with avoiding a relationship than announcing one.
When you choose whether to set your status to “married,” consider what could happen if you need to demonstrate that you were not married. A social media status alone might not be enough to establish a marriage, but it could remove doubt if there are other factors.
Also consider the contents of your on-line bio for your business web site, professional directory, alumni directory, or the like. When the business bio says a person enjoys spending free time with their spouse and children, that person may have a difficult time later claiming there was never a marriage.
Just a break-up or a full-blown divorce?
A common law marriage may seem like a more casual version of being married since there was no ceremony or official process. It is often when one spouse wants to dissolve the relationship that there is a question of whether they were married in the first place.
Unfortunately, ending a common law marriage is not as simple as entering into it. Once you and your significant other qualify as a married couple, moving on is more complicated than a simple break-up.
The benefit to common law marriage is that you and your spouse can enjoy the tax breaks and other benefits of marriage without needing official documentation. Since the State of Colorado sees a common law marriage as the same as a licensed marriage, the only way to end a common law marriage is through a divorce.
Whether you are considering starting or ending a common law marriage, it is important to talk to an experienced attorney about complications that could arise. A skilled professional can help you prepare for the future and establish boundaries before a relationship starts to look more like marriage.