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Colorado appeals court rules 15-year-old girl can marry under common law

[JURIST] The Colorado Court of Appeals [official website] ruled [text] Thursday that a 15-year-old girl can enter into a common-law marriage, remanding a case involving the common-law marriage between a 38-year Willis Rouse and a teenage girl for a lower court to determine the validity of their marriage. The appellate court overruled a decision by a lower court that the girl, who is now over 18-years old, was too young to marry at 15 without judicial approval.

Colorado law requires a person to be 18 to marry, or 16 to marry with parental or judicial approval, but Colorado is also one of ten states that recognizes English common-law marriages. The appellate court did not set a minimum age for common-law marriage in Colorado, but noted that English common-law appears to set the minimum marriage age at 14 for males and 12 for females. The court wrote:

Here, we conclude the trial court erroneously held that persons under the age of sixteen may not enter into a valid common law marriage without judicial approval. As mentioned above, common law marriages in Colorado and other jurisdictions are governed by the common law, not statutes, unless the statutes evince an express legislative intent to abrogate or modify the common law. ...

However, neither § 14-2-108, § 14-10-11 1(1)(c), nor any other provision of the UMA or UDMA makes any reference, either express or implied, to (1) common law marriages in general; (2) abrogation or modification of the common law regarding the age of consent for common law marriage; or (3) the need for any formalities, such as parental consent, to solemnize a common law marriage between an adult and a minor. Furthermore, the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act (UMDA), upon which the UDMA is substantially based, does not address these issues. See generally In re Marriage of Wells, 850 P.2d 694 (Colo. 1993)(Colorado adopted UDMA in 1971, substantially based on UMDA).

Thus, in the absence of a statutory provision to the contrary, it appears that Colorado has adopted the common law age of consent for marriage as fourteen for a male and twelve for a female, which existed under English common law. Nevertheless, we need only hold here that a fifteen-year-old female may enter into a valid common law marriage.
Rouse is serving a prison sentence for a 2002 sexual assault on a child, unrelated to the girl in this case. AP has more. The Rocky Mountain News has local coverage.

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