A 15-year-old girl can enter into a common-law marriage in Colorado, and younger girls and boys possibly can, too, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.
While the three-judge panel stopped short of setting a specific minimum age for such marriages, it said they could be legal for girls at 12 and boys at 14 under English common law, which Colorado recognizes.
The ruling overturned a lower-court judge’s decision that a girl, now older than 18, was too young to marry at 15.
The panel said there was no clear legislative or statutory guidance on common-law marriages, and that Colorado courts have not determined an age of consent.
For traditional ceremonial marriage, Colorado law sets the minimum age at 18, or 16 with parental or judicial approval.
Colorado is one of 10 states, plus the District of Columbia, that recognize common-law marriage, which is based on English law dating back hundreds of years.
“It appears that Colorado has adopted the common-law age of consent for marriage as 14 for a male and 12 for a female, which existed under English common law,” the ruling said. “Nevertheless, we need only hold here that a 15-year-old female may enter into a valid common-law marriage.”
The appeal was filed by Willis Rouse, 38, who is serving time for escape and a parole violation. He argued that he and the girl began living together in April 2002 and applied for a marriage license a year later.
The girl had become legally independent by then, but her mother also consented to the marriage and accompanied the girl and Rouse to obtain a license, the ruling said.
A judge invalidated the marriage, saying anybody under age 16 needed judicial approval for either common-law or ceremonial marriage.
While Thursday’s ruling found that the girl was old enough to marry, it did not conclude whether she and Rouse have a valid marriage. The court sent the case back to the trial judge to make that determination.