Spouses in a Colorado common law marriage enjoy all of the benefits of being married. Legally, there is no difference between a married couple who went through a ceremonial marriage, and one with a common law marriage, and it is a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution to treat married couples differently based upon how their marriage was created. Carter v. Fireman's Pension Fund, 634 P.2d 410 (Colo. 1981).
Moreover, thanks to the U.S. Constitution requiring states to give "full faith & credit" to other states' laws, a couple who were common-law married in Colorado are considered married by the federal government, the military, as well as every state, including those which do not themselves authorize common law marriages.
However, to prevent fraud, some institutions require proof of the common law marriage, either by showing joint tax returns, or filling out an affidavit swearing that a couple is married.
Restrictions on Common Law Marriage
In 2006, as a response to a Colorado Court of Appeals decision holding that young teens could enter into a common law marriage, the Colorado legislature enacted C.R.S. 14-2-109.5, which provided two rules for common law marriages in Colorado:
- Each party to the marriage must be eighteen or older, and
- The marriage is not prohibited by C.R.S. 14-2-110.
Moreover, same-sex couples cannot marry in Colorado, since C.R.S. 14-2-104 explicitly provides that a marriage in Colorado can only be between one man and one woman, and Colorado will not recognize as valid any marriage performed outside of Colorado to the contrary.