June 17, 2006
Case Law Development: Colorado Common Law Allows 15-Year-Old to Marry
The statutory age of consent for marriage in Colorado is eighteen. However, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that a 15-year-old girl can enter a common law marriage in that state. Given the ruling, it may be possible for girls age 12 and boys 14 to marry. Such marriages were recognized by the English common law, which is recognized in Colorado.
In arriving at its decision, the court examined the Colorado statutes regarding at what age a party may marry. It observed that Colorado had adopted the Uniform Marriage Act (UMA), which reflects the legislative purposes of strengthening and preserving the integrity of marriage and safeguarding meaningful family relationships. The act provides procedures for the solemnization and registration of marriages. However, the “UMA provides that “[n]othing in this section shall be deemed to repeal or render invalid any otherwise valid common law marriage between one man and one woman”
The court stated that the legislature had not abrogated of modified the age at which a person may marry under the common law. It observed that courts in other jurisdictions have uniformly declared that the common law age of consent applies to common law marriages, even when statutes otherwise require parental or judicial approval for persons under a specified age, unless those statutes expressly modify or abrogate the common law. The common law marriage of a person is valid, regardless of whether the person has reached the age of competency as established by statute, if the person is competent under the common law.
The jurisdictions that recognize common law marriage are Alabama, Colorado, District of Columbia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah. Pennsylvania recently decided not to recognize common law marriages allegedly contracted after January 1, 2005. The slip opinion of the Colorado Court of Appeals in J.M.H. v. Rouse, filed June 15, may be found by clicking here (last visited June 17, 2006, reo).
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