Common-law marriage is a relatively unique legal concept that many states don’t even acknowledge. However, Colorado is one of the few states that allows couples to claim the benefits of marriage without ever formalizing their relationship through a ceremony or a visit to a courthouse.

Common-law marriage can make it easier and more affordable for couples to enjoy the benefits of married life without the expense or difficulty of an actual wedding service. However, those same laws can complicate your situation if your relationship ends by forcing you to go through divorce instead of parting ways independently.

Even if you and your partner have never had a wedding and have no marriage license, it is possible that you have technically become husband and wife through common-law marriage standards. Understanding the situations in which a relationship changes from an informal one into a common-law marriage in Colorado can help you determine what steps to take at the end of that relationship.

For a common-law marriage to occur, you have to agree to live as spouses

At its most basic level, a common-law marriage is an agreement to live as husband and wife between a man and a woman who never asked the state of Colorado to approve of that union. Informally beginning to use the same last name or introducing one another as your spouses to your community can constitute entering a common-law marriage.

If your family and neighbors think of you as husband and wife, you may technically have a common-law marriage. Similarly, if you file your taxes as a married couple or execute an affidavit of common-law marriage to secure health insurance benefits through an employer, that will be sufficient reason for the state to presume a marriage.

If one or both parties involved in a common-law marriage choose to end the relationship, divorce proceedings may become necessary, and assets acquired during the relationship may wind up divided by the courts. Although this may seem like unnecessary state intrusion, it also protects those who could get taken advantage of by someone hoping to avoid financial and ethical obligations to a partner by simply not marrying them.

What doesn’t constitute a common-law marriage?

There are circumstances that people might believe put them into a common-law marriage that actually have no legal impact on their marital status. Sharing a bank account, having children together, cohabitating for a specific amount of time or purchasing a home together do not necessarily qualify the couple as a married couple under Colorado’s common-law statutes.

Common-law marriage can benefit those in the relationship by extending certain social and financial protections to those who may otherwise be vulnerable at the end of a relationship. If you either need the protection of a common-law divorce or have filed formal paperwork that will necessitate one, you will probably want to handle the process in the same manner as a traditional divorce.