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Common Law Marriage in PA

Common law marriage – the concept that individuals become legally married after a certain amount of time together – is a complex issue because it is both a fact and a myth in the U.S., depending on where you live. A few states continue to recognize the practice, and each of these states defines how a common law marriage can be created within its borders. However, most states have abolished the practice since there was little public benefit to allowing these types of relationships.

In Pennsylvania, you have not been able to enter into a common law marriage as of January 2005. As a result, if you and your partner want to be treated as legal spouses, you must formally marry. However, if you are already a part of a common law marriage that met the previous criteria prior to 2005, your relationship can be recognized by the state.

If you and your partner have ended a relationship and you are not sure whether you were married in the eyes of the law, contact a Pittsburgh marriage lawyer with Pittsburgh Divorce & Family Law, LLC as soon as possible. We can review your situation and explain your rights. Call us today at (412) 471-5100.

Pennsylvania Common Law Marriage

Creating a common law marriage was not as simple as most people think. Pennsylvania required certain elements be met in order for a common law marriage to have been established. For a common law marriage in Pennsylvania prior to 2005, you must have:

  • Been at least 18 years old,
  • Of the opposite sex,
  • Unmarried, and
  • Had the intent to enter into marriage with one another.

To clarify, “the intent to be married to one another” condition required that you vowed to be immediately married. This constituted a present tense statement such as “I take you as my wife.” It was not enough that you became engaged or spoke of wanting to be husband and wife. You must have made a firm and unambiguous commitment and a representation that you took the other individual as your spouse.

There Is No Duration Requirement

Common law marriage is often depicted as automatic after the relationship reaches a certain duration, and some states do have a length requirement. However, in Pennsylvania, you did not suddenly become married once a certain anniversary is reached. The state did not require you and your partner to have lived together a specific period of time before the common law marriage was valid. You could have entered into a common law marriage after a few weeks into a relationship or after a decade of living together.

Common Law Marriages Require a Divorce

If you are part of a common law marriage, this significantly affects your rights when you and your partner decide to split up. As an unmarried couple, you would be able to move forward with your lives with little-to-no court intervention. You might only need to head to court to determine child custody and support if you had minor children.

However, as a married couple, you will need to obtain a divorce to dissolve your marriage. If you have a common law marriage, you cannot simply walk away from one another. While you can separate and lead different lives, you would remain each other’s, legal spouse. This could affect your property rights, retirement benefits, insurance policies, and medical care. You would also be unable to marry again until you were divorced.

The requirement to obtain a divorce may sound like a burden, yet it is a benefit that affords you legal rights unmarried couples do not have. Through a divorce, you can request an equitable division of the marital estate, which includes the savings, real estate, personal property, investments, and retirement you and your spouse accumulated during the relationship. If your spouse had the larger income and you now face financial difficulties, you may be able to request alimony.

Same-Sex Couples May Have Common Law Marriages

Due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which made same-sex marriages legal throughout the country, Pennsylvania must provide same-sex couples the same marital rights as opposite-sex couples, both for formal marriages and common law marriages. This decision has enabled Pennsylvania courts to retroactively determine that same-sex couples had common law marriages established prior to 2005. Courts in Philadelphia, Delaware, Bucks, Chester, and Montgomery counties have already found same-sex couples to have entered into common-law marriages before 2005, granting these individuals marital rights upon divorcing.

A Compassionate Pittsburgh Divorce Lawyer Is Here to Help

If you choose to file for divorce, it will be up to you to initially prove to the court that you have a common law marriage. The court will look at a number of factors to determine if you and the other individual are lawfully married, including the property you and your significant other owned together, documents that list you as married, and whether or not you were known to your family, friends, and community as married. The duration of the relationship may be considered as well, however, a lengthy relationship is not conclusive of a common law marriage. While all of these factors may point toward a marriage, the judge will particularly look for whether you and your partner exchanged vows.

When you and your long-time partner decide to part ways, you should speak with marriage and divorce attorney Anthony Piccirilli to determine whether you are married under Pennsylvania law. If you likely have a common law marriage, attorneyPiccirilli can guide you through formal divorce proceedings.

For more information, call Pittsburgh Divorce & Family Law, LLC (412) 471-5100 today for a free consultation to discuss your unique situation.