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Common Law Marriage In The Context of Probate

Sept. 15, 2022

Does Common Law Marriage Exist in Colorado?

Yes.  Common law marriage has existed for centuries but is currently only recognized in Colorado and six other states.  The 2021 Colorado Supreme Court case In re Marriage of Hogsett & Neale defined modern common law marriage as when: (1) a couple agrees to be married, and (2) afterward demonstrates conduct manifesting such agreement.   

What Inheritance and Probate Rights Do Common Law Spouses Have?

In Colorado, common law spouses have the same probate and inheritance rights as formally married spouses, including priority (standing) to administer a deceased spouse’s estate, and certain inheritance rights.  However, common law spouses will likely have to prove their common law marriage to demonstrate entitlement to such rights. 

How Do I Prove My Common Law Marriage? 

Proving common law marriage can be challenging because common law marriage is inherently informal, and because many modern couples live together and share assets while not intending to be married.  That said, common law marriage can be proven by a written agreement, or by other evidence, such as a reputation as spouses, cohabitation, joint ownership of real estate and/or financial accounts, joint debts, or jointly filing taxes. 

How Do I Claim My Rights as a Surviving Common Law Spouse? 

Common law spouses should be prepared to show probate courts evidence proving their common law marriage.  Experienced legal counsel can help investigate, gather, and strategically present evidence to maximize likelihood of success.  

Can Estates Defend Against Doubtful Common Law Marriage Claims? 

Yes.  Debatable common law marriage claims can cast doubt over important probate questions such as: whom has authority to administer a deceased person’s estate, or whom has inheritance rights.  Fortunately, Colorado law allows personal representatives to defend against debatable common law marriage claims, requiring alleged common law spouses to prove, mediate, or even litigate their claimed status.   

Charles E. Longtine has proven experience dealing with common law marriage claims in the context of Colorado probate courts.  Contact our office for more information.