Is There Such a Thing as Common Law Marriage in Pennsylvania?

As Philadelphia divorce lawyers we often hear people tell us they don’t have to get a formal marriage, because they are already involved in a “common law” marriage. If you think this describes your situation we’d like to advise you that it’s important to be very careful with it, as you may not be as married as you think you are.

And while you might have been reasonably happy with your situation in the past, the fact that you’re here, on our website, tells us that you might be thinking about dissolving your partnership. Please be aware that if your common law marriage does not meet certain criteria you might not be eligible to pursue a divorce. This may work in your favor…or it might not.

Much depends on when you came together.

Pennsylvania stopped recognizing common law marriages in January of 2005. If you and your significant other moved in together after that date but did not pursue a traditional marriage with a signed marriage certificate, that means you are not married.

You may be splitting up, and you might need to think about how to divide certain assets. Custody cases could be more complicated. You won’t be eligible for any kind of spousal support, and “marital property” won’t apply. If your significant other’s name is on his or her retirement assets, for example, those are his or her retirement assets, and the courts won’t help you get at any part of them.

See “She’s Not My Wife” in Penn Live to see a case that demonstrates this scenario.

If you came together before 2005 and have evidence of an oral contract between you and your significant other which shows intent to be married you may be married under Pennsylvania law.

Keep in mind the your significant other’s lawyer may offer arguments.

If it’s to your advantage to prove that you were, in fact married, if non-traditionally, you should not be surprised if your spouse’s lawyer argues something else entirely. The big weakness of a common law marriage is that it’s not set in stone. It’s arguable you were married, and it’s arguable you weren’t. Each lawyer is going to take whatever position serves their clients best.

We can’t give you any guarantees. We can, however, identify the pieces of evidence which might help support your case that you intended to live as a married couple. These pieces of evidence could include joint bank accounts, property held in both spouse’s names, credit accounts held by both spouses, and so forth.

Just be advised even this evidence is not necessarily an “open and shut case” proving intent. It can help, but a lot will be up to the judge and the skill of both party’s lawyers. Proving the existence of an oral contract is, by its very nature, a one party’s word against the other scenario.

See also: What are the Rights of an Unmarried Couple After a Breakup?

Our family law team can help you determine what your next steps should be. Be sure to bring all these issues to our attention when you schedule your free consultation with us.


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