What If I Want A Divorce From A Common Law Marriage?

For some people, the only thing that really matters is love. It’s a wonderful experience that transcends everything, and in the end, the most important thing is to simply be together. Provided that nothing goes wrong with your relationship, this is a perfectly acceptable state of a ffairs. Two people spending the rest of their lives together is always something to be celebrated.

However, when things go wrong and it’s decided that it may be best to part ways, this is when things become challenging and the practical and legal realities of separation have to be considered. This is especially true for relationships that have lasted for years, and involve sharing of assets like property and a family with children.

In an ordinary, legally certified marriage, all of these things are sorted out between the separating couple, with the help of experienced divorce lawyers and, in the event of a dispute on the divorce, the arbitration by a judge in order to resolve the case and strive for equitable distribution.

But what happens if your marriage wasn’t traditional? What if you are in a common law marriage and the time comes to divorce?

If you live in Pennsylvania, things become considerably more complicated.

Common Law Is A Thing Of The Past

As of 2005, Pennsylvania state law no longer recognizes common law marriages. A common law marriage, as most people understand it, is when two people live together for a number of years and, if they act as if they were married anyway, are legally considered married in the eyes of the law, even if no wedding certificate was registered, and no actual ceremony took place.

Pennsylvania state law decided 11 years ago that the only marriage going forward is legal, official marriage. Simply put, this just means that a couple, whether of the opposite sex or the same sex, are only recognized as married and entitled to the rights of a married couple when they go through the traditional, legal process of agetting a marriage license, resulting in some kind of verifiable government document.

For those that were in common law marriage prior to 2005, Pennsylvania state law DOES recognize these marriages as valid, but only if some form of documented proof was submitted before January 1, 2005. In this case, proof may be a self-created document stating the wish or intent to be married-even without ceremony or legal application-that had to be submitted before the 2005 deadline. If these requirements were met, then that marriage, as of 2005, was considered a traditional legal marriage.

However, WITHOUT that proof submitted, even pre-existing common law marriages before 2005 are not considered legal marriages. And this means that, in the eyes of the law, both individuals in the partnership are still considered to have the legal status of single. This also means that if the couple were filing state taxes jointly as a married couple, they were in fact committing tax fraud, even if they didn’t know it, as the financial/legal benefits of filing as a married couple didn’t apply in this case.