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Co-habitation in Colorado: does it mean that you could be considered married? (Part I)

The number of non-marital, cohabitating couples has increased substantially in the past ten years and nearly equals, if not exceeds, the number of couples that are married. Many couples see cohabitation as a stage in the marital process in order to ‘test the waters’ in compatibility prior to getting married. Others choose cohabitation in lieu of marriage, based on their personal values and views of marriage as an institution, or because they have been previously married and divorced. The largest majority of those that choose to cohabitate do so in order to pool financial resources, for economic dependency, out of convenience, or in order to jointly raise a child.

Throughout the duration of a cohabitation relationship, couples may jointly acquire assets and property, co-mingle finances or put themselves in a position where, in the event of a break-up, a clean separation is nearly impossible. Those who do not consider themselves common law married or cannot be found by a Court to be common law married are presented with a more complicated problem: what happens when you break up and you aren’t entitled to the same remedies that are available in a divorce? What if you never talked about or set forth an agreement detailing who would get what, or how you would divide assets you co-mingled? Is there a way to protect yourself before this happens to you?

Colorado, unfortunately, does not afford a specific legal status to cohabitating, non-married couples. Colorado still recognizes common law marriage, but courts have acknowledged that mere cohabitation does not trigger marital rights, and a court should not decline to provide relief to parties in a dispute merely because their dispute arose in relation to their cohabitation. Colorado does provide equitable remedies based on contract and property law in the distribution of assets, or contributions to a relationship and household. This blog post series will address the rights of cohabitants in Colorado and the equitable remedies available for cohabitating, non-married parties when they separate. We will further address the ways that you can protect yourself when moving in with a partner prior to marriage or without intent to marry.

Authored by: Chelsea Augelli, Law Clerk and Juris Doctorate Candidate, 2019