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In re Parental Responsibilities Concerning D.P.G.

2020 COA 115. No. 19CA1375. Family Law—Putative Spouse Statute—Attorney Fees and Costs.

July 23, 2020

Tatarcuk and Goldsworthy lived together for over 10 years and had a son. Goldsworthy petitioned for an allocation of parental responsibilities, and Tatarcuk initiated a dissolution of marriage proceeding alleging that she and Goldsworthy were common law married. The cases were consolidated, and a magistrate determined that no common law marriage existed. In response, Tatarcuk moved to amend her petition to seek relief as a putative spouse under CRS § 14-2-111, which allows a party, under certain circumstances, to obtain spousal rights even though no legal marriage existed. The magistrate denied the request and granted Goldsworthy’s request for attorney fees and costs. The district court affirmed.

On appeal, Tatarcuk contended that the district court erred in denying her putative spouse claim. The putative spouse statute affords spousal rights when a marriage is invalid due to some impediment to the existence of a legal marriage, and the absence of a common law marriage is not such an impediment. Here, there was no impediment to the existence of a marriage between the parties. Therefore, the lack of a marital relationship prevents Tatarcuk from obtaining putative spouse rights and the district court did not err.

Tatarcuk also contended that the district court erred in upholding the magistrate’s award of attorney fees and costs and in imposing its own award of attorney fees and costs against her. Because Tatarcuk’s claim presented an arguably meritorious legal theory on an issue of first impression in Colorado, the magistrate and district court abused their discretion in awarding attorney fees and costs.

The portion of the judgment denying Tatarcuk’s motion to amend was affirmed. The portions of the judgment awarding Goldsworthy attorney fees and costs was reversed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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