Guide to Common Law Marriage in Pennsylvania
There are many myths surrounding common law marriage in PA.
Many people believe that you are entering into a common-law marriage in Pennsylvania if you cohabitate with a partner for long enough, or have children together and share a last name.
However, the truth is significantly more complex. This guide will help you understand the realities of common law marriage in PA, and whether your common-law marriage will be recognized by the state.
History of Common Law Marriage in Pennsylvania
common law marriage in PA is an expression of tradition that began in England before the founding (or, indeed, even the discovery) of the United States.
In England, a couple only had to privately say their wedding vows to each other and were then considered married by the unwritten law (the “common law,” as it was called). Couples married in this way had all the rights and responsibilities of any other couple, and could not remarry without an annulment or divorce.
Common-law marriage in Pennsylvania adhered closely to the old doctrine of common law marriage from England. In order to have a common-law marriage in PA, two people simply had to use what was called “words of present intent” expressing that they now considered themselves married.
Once the words had been said, a common-law marriage in Pennsylvania existed. Couples who had married in this way would need to file for divorce if they wished to split up, and had the same rights as any married couple for estate purposes.
In 2003, a court decision seemed to outlaw common law marriage in PA. The appellate court in the case said that common law marriage in Pennsylvania made it impossible for third parties, like creditors, to understand whether a couple was married or not.
The state of Pennsylvania cemented this ruling during the 2004 legislative session, pushing through a bill to end common law marriage in PA that was signed by the governor in October of that year.
Current Status of Common Law Marriage in Pennsylvania
While common law marriage in PA started in the 17th century, it survived only five years into this one. In 2005, the state legislature stopped recognizing the validity of any new Pennsylvania law on marriage.
Couples who had entered into a common-law marriage before January 2, 2005, still had their marriages recognized by the state, but no common-law marriages have taken place in the state since that time.
Out of State Common Law Marriages
Even though common law marriage in PA is no longer allowed, any person who is considered common-law married by their state is still married when they move out of the state.
Because of this, if you have a common-law marriage in any of the ten states that still allow them, you may move to Pennsylvania without fear of losing any of the benefits of marriage.