Common Law Marriages

There must be a valid marriage before there can be a divorce or an annulment. Typically, a marriage is entered into as part of a civil or religious ceremony and a marriage license is obtained. A common law marriage is a marriage entered into by the parties informally, without a civil or religious ceremony. The parties must exchange “words of the present intent” indicating their desire to be married and hold themselves out in the community as married individuals. Pennsylvania has never required that the parties reside together for a certain period of time to be recognized as a common law husband and wife or that a man and woman who resided together for seven years would automatically be considered husband and wife. Common law marriages entered into prior to January 1, 2005 may still be valid but on November 23, 2004, the statute changed to abolish common law marriages after January 1, 2005. Notwithstanding, the new law also provides that it does not invalidate any common law marriage “otherwise lawful and contracted on or before January 1, 2005.”