Common Law Marriage

A common law marriage is distinguished from a regular marriage in that no marriage license is required. Instead, parties just have exchange words of intent to be married and hold themselves out to their community as a married couple. Often, the parties also lived together for some length of time as well. Common law marriage was abolished in Pennsylvania in 2005. Parties who met the requirements for common law marriage prior to 2005 can still be recognized as valid marriages. Once a common law marriage is established, it can only be resolved by divorce just as with any regular marriage. Moser v. Renninger, 2012 PA Super 59 (2011) discusses how to evaluate whether a valid common law marriage exists.

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 ever existed. Initially, the court held a common law marriage was in fact established on June 8, 1985. Husband immediately sought to appeal the court’s finding but his appeal was denied on the basis that it was premature. The court held that since the issue of whether there was a common law marriage or not was raised in the context of the divorce, Husband could not file an appeal until the divorce matter was final. The court also noted that if the issue of common law marriage is raised outside of a divorce, an immediate appeal would be appropriate.