Pennsylvania stopped recognizing Common Law Marriages as of January 1, 2005; however, if you had established a Common Law Marriage in Pennsylvania BEFORE that date, Pennsylvania Law preserves the validity of such marriages. An established Common Law Marriage may provide you with certain benefits such as spousal death benefits, Social Security surviving spouse benefits, or zero percent inheritance tax (as opposed to 15% for unrelated persons).
In the event an established Common Law Marriage ends in a permanent breakup, either spouse may be entitled to a property division, spousal support or alimony, depending on the circumstances. In claiming a Common Law Marriage, you will most likely be asked to provide the Court with records that can establish proof of the marriage, such as joint tax returns or joint loans. You may be asked to provide witnesses who can testify that, while you were a couple, you held yourselves out to family, friends and the community as a married couple. Witnesses may be asked if there was ever any type of ceremony; if so, what was said at the ceremony. The statement of the intent to become a Husband and Wife is the key requirement.
The Social Security Resource Center states that once you have cleared the state hurdle to establish a Common Law Marriage in Pennsylvania, it is just a matter of filing the appropriate Social Security paperwork to claim benefits. The Social Security Office
will not make a determination regarding a Common Law Marriage until it is actually time to make a claim. At that time, they will require both spouses to complete a “Statement of Marital Relationship” and to provide an additional statement from a blood relative affirming the marriage. If your common-law spouse has died and you are seeking survivor benefits, you must provide your own statement, one from a blood relative of yours and two from blood relatives of the deceased. Social Security may seek corroborating evidence that the couple consider (or considered) themselves spouses, such as mortgage or rent receipts, insurance policies or bank records.
In addition, the children of deceased common-law spouses (i.e. parents) may qualify for survivor benefits. The question of Social Security benefits for common-law marriages between same-sex partners is legally unsettled at this time. Same-sex relationships are being addressed piecemeal, as relevant cases work their way through State courts.
If you believe that you may be entitled to spousal benefits or social security survivor benefits as the result of a Common Law Marriage that was established prior to January 1, 2005, please contact us at 717-299-7342 for a convenient appointment to discuss your situation. Pyfer Reese Straub Gray & Farhat PC can help.