Colorado Probate law – common law spouse

Posted by: Jul 10, 2013By Brian Stutheit

It is obviously important under Colorado probate law to be a surviving spouse.  A surviving spouse cannot be disinherited unless he or she has signed a marital agreement (prenup or postnup contract).  A surviving spouse gets first dibs on a portion of estate assets.  A spouse gets priority to be appointed executor of the estate.  What if you were never formally married?  You may be a common law spouse, entitled to full rights.

Colorado recognizes so-called “common law” marriages.  A couple does not need to obtain a marriage license or participate in a wedding ceremony to have a common law marriage; however, the couple must:
1) Mutually consent or agree to live as husband and wife; and
2) Mutually and openly assume a marital relationship.
In other words, the couple must agree that the marriage exists, and must behave in public as a married couple. A court may consider the conduct of the couple and the duration and nature of their relationship to verify the existence of an agreement between them.
Many people mistakenly believe that a couple has a common law marriage after living together for a certain period of time. Living together for a long period of time may help to demonstrate the couple’s agreement to be married, but the law does not require a specific time period and does not assume that living together means a couple were married.

What might be evidence of a common law marriage?  The surviving spouse may use some or all of the following evidence, or other similar evidence, to demonstrate their agreement to have a marital relationship:
* A woman takes the surname of the man with whom she lives; * The couple refers to their marriage in conversations with other people, such as friends, family, and co-workers; * The couple files joint tax returns for federal or state income tax purposes;
* The couple lists each other as spouses on insurance forms and retirement plans; * The couple has joint checking and savings accounts; * The couple jointly own real estate; * the couple identify each other as married on their children’s school records.