The courts may recognize certain rights in relationships other than marriage. Palimony is the term for legal property and support rights arising from co-habitation. Co-habitation is not necessarily required for a palimony claim so long as there is a marital-like relationship. The default rule is that title controls ownership in the absence of a written document stating otherwise. However, the courts may recognize certain equitable doctrines to achieve fairness even if strict adherence to the written document would produce a different result. One cause of action is a constructive trust through the theory of unjust enrichment. The crux of the theory is that it would be unfair to allow the person that doesn’t have title to be excluded from the wealth they helped create.

Another equitable doctrine is quantum meruit. This doctrine posits that each party should get what they deserve. To be successful, the parties must establish that there was a reasonable expectation of receiving a benefit from the relationship. For example, a promise to support, expressed or implied, could be the subject of a quantum meruit claim. As a matter of policy, certain courts are reluctant to award any rights in non-marital relationships with the belief that it undermines the institution of marriage.

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The putative spouse doctrine provides an equitable remedy where one or both spouses believed in good faith they were married and subsequently discovered the marriage wasn’t valid. The spouse that is unaware of any impediment to the marriage is the putative spouse. The equitable remedy provided more or less mirrors the relief that would be available if the parties were divorcing from a valid marriage. The purpose of the doctrine is to protect those who have an honest belief that they are married from being denied the economic and/or status related benefits of marriage including potential property division and support.

The doctrine is recognized in many states across the country as long as the key elements are met. First, there must be a proper marriage ceremony. Second, one or both parties must have a good faith belief the marriage is valid. Good faith is defined as an honest and reasonable belief. If either spouse receives information concerning the validity of the marriage, they have a duty to investigate further.

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Under Section 3301(c) of the Divorce Code, one way to obtain a no-fault divorce is by mutual consent of the parties ninety (90) days after filing and service of the divorce complaint. This is often the quicker option for a no-fault divorce however it is contingent on both parties signing the consent. Case law provides that a party cannot be forced to consent. This is true even if the party previously entered an agreement indicating they would timely consent to the divorce. The court has stated “[a] person has an unqualified right to change his or her mind and refuse to consent to be divorced, at least, as here, where the consent, though signed, has not been delivered or filed.” Berman v. Berman, 33 Pa. D. & C.3d 134 (1983). This position supports the Divorce Code policy of preservation of marriages wherever possible.

There is also the potential that an affidavit of consent could be withdrawn even after having been filed with the court. This is only possible if the court grants the request for withdrawal. The courts have previously referred to Rule 1920.42(c) as granting the power to deny a petition to withdraw consent. The rationale being that an affidavit of consent could always be withdrawn and there would be no reason to seek the court’s permission if withdrawals were automatic. Instead, the court laid out a standard to be used when determining whether to allow withdrawal which examines whether the affidavit was signed under duress, fraud or undue influence. Duress would include threats of physical harm or actual harm. Fraud, which must be established by clear and convincing evidence, would demonstrate a misrepresentation with the intent to induce signature to an affidavit of consent. Finally, undue influence is influence obtained by excessive persuasion or other means such that the other party lacks free will and is unable to refuse. In addition to the above factors, the court should also look at the totality of the circumstances in order to effectuate justice among the parties and fulfill the intent and purposes of the Divorce Code.

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