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If not legally wed, a contract is crucial to protect rights

Common law marriage is not recognized in Pennsylvania. It was abolished in 2005 with the stipulation that unions formed prior to that year would be deemed valid. But even in those circumstances, certain standards have to have been met in order for the marriage to be recognized under law.

Specifically, as was recently reported by The Patriot-News, there has to be irrefutable evidence that both parties in the marriage exchanged a clear statement of some kind that each is the other’s spouse.

On its face, this might not seem to be that big an issue. But as a Berks County woman has discovered, being unable to provide clear evidence of a common law marriage means her effort to get a legal divorce have hit a snag. Two courts have ruled that since she can’t prove the marriage, she is not entitled to either an equal division of the couple’s marital property or to alimony.

According to court filings in the case, the couple apparently began living together in 1991. Five years and two children later, the woman claims, she has a “very distinct memory” of exchanging formal words of commitment. Unfortunately, in seeking a divorce and a split of assets and alimony, a county court and a state appeals court ruled that memory wasn’t sufficient, especially since her mate testified that he never said he considered them husband and wife.

In the wake of the decisions, the woman says she hopes others will take note and take precautions to ensure their rights. Protection of medical rights, estate plans and property division are legally achievable through a legal contract. And the best way to assure the validity of such an agreement is to work with an attorney with experience handling domestic partnerships.

Source:, “You can’t get divorced because you can’t prove you were married, Pa. court tells woman,” Matt Miller, Oct. 20, 2014