Common Law Marriage

Common law marriage could be established in Pennsylvania up until January 1, 2005. All common law marriages established before that date are recognized as valid marriages. In order to establish a common law marriage, the parties must have exchanged words of intent to be married and held themselves out to their community as being married. Often, the parties also lived together for some length of time. While this is not a requirement in and of itself, it plays into the couple having held themselves out as married. Once a common law marriage is established, it can only be resolved by divorce just as with any regular marriage. Pennsylvania is presently in a transition stage in that while no new common law marriages can be created, there are still inquiries into whether they were previously created and accordingly, how the ancillary issues should be handled, i.e. divorce versus civil suit.

Moser v. Renninger, 2012 PA Super 59 (2011) discusses the procedure and timing for establishing or denying common law marriage.

In Moser v. Renninger, Wife filed a divorce complaint on November 19, 2010 stating that her and Husband had entered into a valid common law marriage in 1985. Husband subsequently filed an Action for Declaratory Relief asking the court to declare that no common law marriage existed. After an evidentiary hearing on the matter the court held a common law marriage was in fact established on June 8, 1985. Husband immediately sought to appeal the court’s finding that common law marriage existed. Husband’s appeal was denied on the basis that it was premature. Because the issue of whether there was a common law marriage was raised in the context of the divorce, the court found that Husband could not file an appeal until the divorce matter is final. If, however, the issue of common law marriage had been addressed separately, an appeal following the decision would be appropriate as the entire matter would be concluded.

This method may be considered favorable in that it allows the entirety of the divorce to be resolved without the delay and disruption of an appeal. On the other hand, it may be a waste of the court’s time to resolve the divorce and all related issues if their ruling that the parties were in fact common law married is later overturned.