Pitfalls of ending a relationship without an attorney

It's become commonplace for couples to partner rather than marry. Some view the institution of marriage as antiquated or oppose the religious nature associated with marriage. For others, an engagement ring is enough and they never get around to planning or paying for the wedding.

For couples in Colorado, it is important to understand the rules of common-law marriage. The state is one of 12 that recognize it. If you view your status as partners (not spouses) you may be in for a surprise at the end of your relationship.

Roots dating to 1877 

A U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1877 found that non-ceremonial marriages were valid unless a state specifically passed a statute to forbid them. Colorado never passed any such legislation.

What do you need to prove to the court that a common-law marriage existed? There is no timing requirement and the five elements are:

  1. Ability to marry (over age of 18 and not currently married to someone else)
  2. Hold yourselves out to community as husband and wife
  3. Consent to marriage
  4. Live together
  5. Reputation in the community as married

As with many areas of the law, this can become very fact specific. If you have an engagement ring, have been together for years and use the term partner rather than spouse, it's quite possible common-law marriage applies. A signed affidavit is generally all it takes to provide proof of marriage to an insurance company for benefits such as employer-provided health coverage. 

After a relationship ends

Death or divorce are the only recognized ways that terminate a common-law marriage. Moving out does not.

Child custody issues would also most likely need to be resolved through a divorce process. Moving quickly is important when it comes to jurisdictional issues. Dealing with the issues right away after a breakup can avoid problems down the road. An informal every other week schedule can work for a toddler, but once school starts often causes conflict.

Because family law rules vary greatly by state, it is important to get advice from an experienced Colorado family law attorney. If you have moved from another state that did not recognize common-law marriage, you definitely need state-specific legal counsel.

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