Talk to a top lawyer for free

Common Law Marriage in PA: Yes or No?

If you're wondering whether you have a common law marriage in PA, the answer might be "no." Learn more in this comprehensive guide.

evident Editorial Team
January 27, 2024
couple, holding hands, flannel

The term "common law marriage in PA" frequently arises in relationships and legal discussions, leading to numerous questions and misconceptions. Pennsylvania is particularly noteworthy, given its distinct history with how it used to recognize common law marriage.

This article dives deep into Pennsylvania's history with common law marriage, answers whether Pennsylvania recognizes common law marriage, and debunks common myths.

Whether you're curious about when common law marriage existed in the state, wondering about Pennsylvania's current stance, or seeking clarity on the rights of unmarried couples, this guide offers insights.

Key Takeaways

What is Common Law Marriage?

Common law marriage stands apart from traditional marriage in its formation.

Unlike a ceremonial marriage that requires a marriage license, a valid common law marriage is established when a couple lives together and presents themselves with a present intent as a married duo to their community, all without the official legal status that comes with a wedding.

Key elements typically characterizing a valid marriage based on common law include:

  • Cohabitation: The couple has resided together for an extended period.
  • Representation: Partners consistently introduce themselves as common law married to friends, family, and the public.
  • Intent: A mutual understanding and desire to be perceived as married.

Does Pennsylvania Recognize Common Law Marriage?

philadelphia, city, downtown

Up until September 2003, Pennsylvania did recognize common law marriages. After this date, however, the state ceased to recognize common law marriages for relationships established in Pennsylvania after that period.

For couples who believe they were in a common law marital relationship in Pennsylvania prior to 2003, convincing evidence would be necessary to validate their relationship status, especially concerning matters like pension benefits or inheritance.

Under the "Full Faith and Credit Clause" of the U.S. Constitution, Pennsylvania also generally acknowledges valid common law marriages from other jurisdictions.

Rights of Unmarried Couples in Pennsylvania

Relationship property rights are a significant concern for those not immediately married. Unlike a legally married couple, unmarried partners don't automatically share property ownership in Pennsylvania. The name on a property title typically determines ownership, but drafting agreements can provide clarity.

Healthcare decisions and child custody can also pose challenges for unmarried couples compared to married couples. While biological parents have inherent rights, establishing legal paternity is crucial for fathers.

Following the Supreme Court's decision, same-sex couples have the same rights as opposite-sex couples. This means that same-sex and opposite-sex marriage in Pennsylvania grant couples equal rights.

Common Myths About Pennsylvania Common Law Marriage

question, doubt, problem

Understanding common law marriage in Pennsylvania requires sifting through numerous misconceptions.

Below, we debunk some prevalent myths surrounding the topic:

The "7-Year Rule"

  • Myth: Living together for seven continuous years results in an automatic recognition of a common law marriage.
  • Reality: In Pennsylvania, the duration of cohabitation doesn't automatically grant couples a common law marriage status. The foundation of common law marriage is built on mutual intent to be seen as married and consistent representation as such to society.

Shared Finances Equals Marriage:

  • Myth: If a couple shares joint bank accounts, properties, or other financial assets, they are considered common law married.
  • Reality: While joint financial decisions are significant for a relationship, they do not directly determine a couple's legal relationship status under Pennsylvania law.

Common Law Marriage Certificate:

  • Myth: Couples in a common law marriage can obtain a "common law marriage certificate."
  • Reality: Pennsylvania does not issue specific certificates for common law marriages. Such marriages were recognized based on mutual intent and consistent representation, not a document.

By staying informed about these facts and distinguishing them from myths, couples can navigate their legal standing in Pennsylvania. If you need further assistance, contact an attorney versed in family law.

Same-Sex Marriages and PA Common Law Marriage

Pennsylvania's approach to same-sex marriage and common law marriages has changed over the years. 

Here's what you need to know:

1. Recognition of Same-Sex Marriages:

  • Pennsylvania acknowledges same-sex marriages and gives these couples the same legal rights and status as opposite-sex couples.

2. Common Law Marriages for Same-Sex Couples:

  • Past Stance: Before the cessation of common law marriage recognition in 2003, Pennsylvania focused on the nature of the relationship, not the gender of the partners.
  • Current Stance: Post-2003, Pennsylvania does not recognize new common law marriages, regardless of whether the couple is same-sex or opposite-sex. Since they meet the required criteria, existing common law marriages from before this date are still recognized.

FAQs About Pennsylvania Common Law Marriage

How long do you have to live together for common law marriage in PA?

In Pennsylvania, there isn't a specified duration of cohabitation that automatically results in a common law marriage. Instead, common law marriage in PA was historically recognized based on the couple's mutual intent to be married and their consistent representation of their relationship as a marriage to the public.

What is considered common law marriage in PA?

Common law marriage in Pennsylvania was traditionally based on the mutual intent of the couple to be considered married without a formal marriage license or ceremony. Both partners needed to have a present intent to be viewed as married and consistently present themselves as such to their community.

What is the benefit of common law marriage?

Common law marriage can offer a few benefits:

  • Legal Recognition: In states that recognize it, common law marriage offers couples the same legal protections and rights as those with a formal marriage license.
  • Flexibility: Couples can establish a marital relationship without undergoing a traditional ceremony or obtaining a marriage license.
  • Economic Advantages: Depending on the state, common law spouses might be eligible for tax benefits, social security benefits, and spousal inheritance rights similar to formally married couples.
  • Healthcare and Decision Rights: In some scenarios, common law spouses might be granted the authority to make critical medical decisions for their partners.

Conclusion: Understanding Your Legal Standing in Pennsylvania

So, does Pennsylvania recognize common law marriage? Pennsylvania's laws surrounding common law marriage are nuanced and have evolved. While Pennsylvania recognized common law marriage prior to 2003, it no longer recognizes new common law marriages post-2003.

Whether you're in a committed relationship, considering cohabitation, or merely expanding your knowledge, it's essential to be informed about your rights and the state's regulations.

As the intricacies of family law can vary and change, seeking guidance from a qualified Pennsylvania family law attorney can offer clarity and protection tailored to your specific situation.