“Common law marriage” is a term that continues to get thrown around in conversation and in media, although it has a specific meaning within the law that is often different from how people use it. Many people use the phrase “common law marriage” to refer to two people who have been cohabitating for a long period of time without being formally married. And while that description may be true of some actual common law marriages, the vast majority of long-time cohabitants are not in common law marriages. The concept of common law marriage is really a throwback to previous eras in which marriage was more associated with religious institutions than state legal matters and when people may have lived in places where access to courts and government offices was limited. Only a handful of states still recognize common law marriage, Pennsylvania being one of them.

Common Law Marriage in Pennsylvania

First off, Pennsylvania law abolished the entering into of new common law marriages on or after January 1, 2005 but still recognizes common law marriages entered into before that date. To have a valid common law marriage, the party asserting the existence of the marriage must show the following:

  • Intent: Both parties must have made an expression of present intent to enter into the marriage as husband and wife. Therefore, there must have been a moment like in a traditional wedding ceremony where the man and woman promised to be husband and wife to each other, even if no one else was present.
  • Cohabitation: The parties must have lived together on an ongoing basis throughout the marriage and also consummated the marriage.
  • Capacity to Marry: The parties must have met the requirements for a traditional marriage in Pennsylvania, including being 18 or older and not married to any other person.
  • Holding Out as Spouses: The common law spouses must present themselves as spouses in a marriage to others. If two people say they “are not married” or “are not spouses,” then this would be evidence that they are not common law married.

Divorce in a Common Law Marriage

If two spouses meet those requirements for common law marriage, then one spouse can pursue a divorce in Pennsylvania as would any spouse in a traditional marriage. This means that spouse can pursue equitable division of marital property and spousal support from the other spouse, among other things.

Get Help With Your PA No-Fault Divorce Today

At The Martin Law Firm, we work with clients across southeast Pennsylvania in guiding them through family law challenges. Our attorneys understand the stress that you are going through in seeking a divorce, and we are committed to serving your needs in a compassionate and efficient manner. Call us today to schedule a consultation to discuss your situation.