Colorado Common Law Marriage 2023 - All You Need to Know

September 15, 2022

Do you know that you could be in a common law marriage in the state of Colorado and not even realize it? Common law marriage in Colorado is a confusing topic for many because very few people understand what it means to be common law married and who decides whether a couple meets the criteria for such a marriage. Common law marriage is sometimes confused with a civil union (also known as a domestic partnership), which is actually a different type of legally recognized relationship in Colorado.

Fortunately, anyone looking for answers regarding common law marriages can read more about the process here and gain valuable insight into how common law marriage is determined and handled in states that recognize common law unions.

What Is a Common Law Marriage?

In the state of Colorado, a common law marriage is applied to couples who are in a committed relationship when said relationship appears to be a marriage but lacks the formal documentation that sanctions the marriage by the state (i.e., a marriage certificate). In Colorado, couples in a common law marriage have the benefits of a traditional marriage. Both parties in a common law marriage are also held to traditional marriage obligations.

Common law marriages are recognized by courts in Colorado even though they are not formally documented via a marriage license. This means that common law spouses must go through the courts to settle major legal issues, the same as couples who are in a traditional marriage.

Who Qualifies for a Common law Marriage in Colorado?

In Colorado, both opposite-sex and same-sex couples qualify for common law marriage if both individuals meet the following requirements:

  1. Both people in the relationship are at least 18 years old
  2. Neither person can be in a marriage or domestic partnership with a third party.
  3. Both people in the relationship must consent to being committed to one another.
  4. Both people must have a “mutual and open assumption” that they are conducting themselves as a married couple.

So, if both people in a relationship agree to be seen and addressed as married, and both people behave in a way that reflects marriage, then common law applies. This way of defining common law marriage can make determining whether a couple is indeed in a common law marriage difficult, but usually, the official decision is made by a judge.

A Brief History of Common law Marriage in Colorado

Since the late 1800s, Colorado has recognized common law marriage as a legal and binding concept. The state handles legal matters related to common law spouses similarly to matters in a traditional marriage. Parties in a common law marriage do not have to express consent verbally or in writing for the marriage to exist; they simply have to conduct themselves as a married couple. The Supreme Court of Colorado only requires evidence of marital conduct to make a determination on a common law marriage. As of 2021, couples may be deemed common law spouses if they share an intimate relationship where mutual care, support, and obligation are present.

Evidence of a common law marriage may include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Owning joint property
  • Having joint bank accounts (checking and/or savings)
  • Making social introductions as spouses (calling each other husband and wife)
  • Living together (even for a short period of time)
  • Wearing engagement or wedding rings
  • Having a ceremony of any kind to celebrate their union
  • Commitment symbols such as gifts, cards, etc.
  • Periods of taking financial responsibility for one another
  • Estate planning measures where the other party is named in documents as an officially sanctioned spouse would be named

Do Common Law Spouses Have Divorces?

Yes. If the court determines that a couple is common law married, they will have to have a divorce to officially end the union. Common law marriages are treated exactly like legally sanctioned marriages in Colorado, so the parties will have to file for divorce and be subjected to the same litigation.

Once you are determined to be in a common law marriage, that marriage will have to be officially terminated before you can enter into another valid marriage (common law or traditional) or domestic partnership with a new person.


Q: How Long Do You Have to Live Together for a Common Law Marriage in Colorado?

A: Colorado law doesn’t base common law marriage determinations on the length of time a cohabiting couple lives together. A couple could spend one month cohabitating and be common law married if there is proper evidence. Conversely, a couple could live together for many years and not show evidence that they conduct themselves as a married couple.

Q: Does Social Security Recognize Common law Marriage in Colorado?

A: Yes, the Social Security Administration does recognize common law marriages in Colorado because the state recognizes such marriages. Spouses who are currently in (or those who were formerly in) a valid common law marriage are afforded the same benefits as officially sanctioned spouses and can therefore receive their spouse’s social security benefits.

Q: Can Those in a Common Law Marriage File Jointly in Colorado?

A: Yes. According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, spouses in common law marriages can file jointly in Colorado if they also file jointly on federal tax returns. This means that common law spouses can get the same tax breaks they would have if they had an official marriage license.

Q: Is Colorado a Common Law Property State?

A: Colorado views property as common law property, meaning there is no automatic assumption that property belongs to both parties in a marriage (i.e., community property). When property must be divided, it is done so via a process called “equitable distribution,” where an equal split of property is achieved during a divorce.

Understanding Your Rights About Common Law Marriage

The concept of common law marriage is greatly misunderstood, even in states like Colorado, where it is recognized. Understanding common law marriage can be invaluable when making long-term decisions in intimate relationships.

If you are in doubt about whether you are in a common law union in Colorado or wish to inquire about legal counsel for a common law marriage termination, you can contact a family law attorney at Johnson Law Group for assistance.

Written by Family Law Attorney Myles S. Johnson
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