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Property division can take common-law spouses by surprise

Many couples in Boulder County are taking longer to tie the knot than previous generations. Some spend time living together, perhaps commingling their finances or even raising children together before marrying. However, even without a traditional marriage, these partners may have to deal with property division and other divorce legal issues after they break up.

Recently, one Colorado woman -- a single mom -- shared her story of living with her boyfriend in her house. The couple shared a bank account for household expenses. Eventually they broke up; the woman sold the house and moved into a new one. When her ex-boyfriend continued to harass her, she began looking into her legal options to protect herself and her family.

At this point she found that things were much more complicated than she realized: while never formally married, their relationship was recognized as a common-law marriage. Because the boyfriend was not willing to walk away from the relationship, she had to proceed with a divorce from him just as if they had been married. And because Colorado is an equitable distribution state, he was legally entitled to his share of their marital property, including a portion of the equity in the home they lived in together (but which she had bought on her own).

Common-law marriage is an important aspect of family law in Colorado with which our readers should be familiar. It provides partners with some benefits in certain situations (we'll look at these in detail in a future blog post), but it can also mean that a formal divorce and property division process are necessary when one might have anticipated an otherwise simple breakup.

Source: FOX 21, "Colorado Springs woman struggles with aftermath from common-law marriage," Carly Moore, Nov. 9, 2017

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