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What is a common law marriage?

Colorado residents may be curious to know what common law marriage is. A common law marriage is one that is based on the couple's mutual agreement to be married to one another but not based on any legal or ceremonial formalities. The marriage is considered legitimate as long as there is nothing that legally stands in the way of the marriage, such as age, and the pair are generally regarded as a married couple.

Only nine states plus the District of Columbia recognize common law marriage, and each has its own set of standards that validate such a marriage. The practice began in England and was particularly popular in the 19th century American West where it was difficult to find someone who was qualified to perform a marriage.

The qualifications in Colorado for a common law marriage are that the couple is made up of a man and a woman, both are at least 18 years of age, both agree to live as a married couple and must behave as a married couple. Behaving as a married couple could include things such as one member taking on the other's surname, sharing a joint bank account, filing taxes jointly and being open with friends and family about being married to one another. However, it is not required, as many believe, that the couple live together for a certain length of time. In order to end a common law marriage, the spouses must get a divorce in the same way that a couple married by ceremony would.

A family law attorney could help provide information to questions regarding common law marriage. Additionally, if a couple needs support in gathering the correct documentation in order to prove the validity of their marriage, an attorney could assist in the process.

Source: Office of Legislative Legal Services, "Common Law Marriage", October 16, 2014

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