COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- It starts with two people meeting, and as time goes on, they may be living together. For some, that comes to an end. That's where one Colorado Springs woman's problem started.
She wanted to share her story, but wanted to be anonymous.
"It's absolutely the most horrific experience," she said.
In 2012, her boyfriend moved into her house, and then they had a joint bank account.
"I'm a single mom, new relationship, everyone is excited, it's something new," she said. "It just would make sense. Hey, let's open up a joint account. We both put money in, and we pay the bills out of this joint account, for ease and accessibility."
Things went south.
"We split up. He moved out of my house. Two months later, I sold my house. I purchased my new house," she said.
He turned violent.
"He broke into my house, and then of course he continued to harass me, stalk me, come over," she said.
This woman wanted to protect her children, and this is where things got complicated.
"I would need to contact an attorney to find out how to go about protecting myself," she said. "The system is flawed if you live with someone, and had a relationship with someone. If you want to end that relationship, and that other person doesn't want to end that relationship, you have to go and divorce that person that you never married. I am thinking, "This is the most insane thing that I have ever heard!'"
Attorney Pat Mika said it's true.
"There are two ways to be married in Colorado. Formally with a legal document that is filed with the clerk's office, and secondly common-law married. Common law involves someone who cohabitates with another person and they both, they share an intent to be married."
Mika said the court could also look at the following things to constitute a common-law marriage:
- Holding themselves out as married to third parties
- Having children
- Filing joint federal or state tax returns
- Listing each other as a spouse on insurance forms or retirement plans
- Joint finances, such as bank accounts, or owning joint property
"We are an equitable distribution state so assets are split equitably," said Mika.
The woman said her ex-boyfriend was entitled equity of her first house that she owned solely, part of her retirement savings, or other assets.
Now that she is legally divorced, she is trying to let other people know about this difficult process.
"Know the law, protect yourself," she said.
Her ex-boyfriend is also facing felony charges for the damage he did to her house. Mika said even if a couple is married, destroying someone's property could be a criminal offense.