For many people, a marriage is a legal contract that has been confirmed by a formal wedding. But although that may be the traditional concept of marriage, it is not the only one, which is why some states recognize what is known as a common law marriage. This type of marriage has actually been around since the late 19th century, and 10 states, including Colorado, fully recognize common law marriages, while another five states recognize it with legal restrictions. In a common law marriage, a couple have lived together for several years, and have presented themselves to everyone as being married, even though they never have an official wedding, or obtain a wedding license. But there are more factors to a couple being categorized as having a common law marriage than just living together.
The amount of time that a couple has lived together under one roof is not a determining factor in whether a judge or court will recognize a common law marriage. That means that a couple that has only lived together for two months could be considered to have a common law marriage, whereas a couple that has lived together for 10 years may not be considered to have a common law marriage. In fact, the most important factors that a judge will consider when determining whether to grant common law marriage status, other than confirming that both parties are at least 18 years old, includes:
Presentation To Outside World – Did the couple present itself to the public, to friends, to family and to colleagues as being married? Did they each refer to the other person as a spouse? Did they share a last name?
Financial Ties – Did the couple open joint bank accounts? Were they beneficiaries on any life insurance policies? Did they share the same credit card account with two separate cards? Did they file joint tax returns, or share a health insurance policy on which they referred to each other as a spouse?
Signed Affidavit of Common Law Marriage – In states that fully recognize common law marriages, couples can sign a document that grants many of the same benefits as a couple that is legally married.
If you are a couple that wants common law marriage status, you should consult with our law firm to determine whether your situation qualifies for this designation. Although there are guidelines that judges can follow, every couple has unique circumstances that can affect whether or not their relationship will be categorized as a common law marriage.
Every common law married couple must go through a standard divorce if things don’t work out. In fact, the irony is that most common law marriages are not confirmed as such until one person in the relationship files for divorce. After the court establishes that a common law marriage existed, it will require both parties to create a marriage settlement agreement that resolves all the major issues of the divorce, including property division, division of debts, spousal maintenance, and any timesharing and visitation issues if children are involved. Without obtaining an official divorce, neither person in the common law marriage can legally marry again without first dissolving that common law marriage.
The ins and outs of a common law marriage and divorce are complex and require the expertise of a team, such as Kinnaird Law, that has handled these types of cases successfully. Please contact us today to schedule a free consultation.