common law marriage


Common Law Benefits

Pennsylvania stopped recognizing Common Law Marriages as of January 1, 2005; however, if you had established a Common Law Marriage in Pennsylvania prior to 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). 

Obtaining Records

In the event an established Pennsylvania Common Law Marriage ends in a permanent separation, either spouse may be entitled to a property division, spousal support or alimony, depending on the circumstances, and a Divorce Decree must be obtained.  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.  

What Counts as Evidence of Intent

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, and if they can testify as to what was said at the ceremony.  The statement of the intent to become Husband and Wife is the key requirement.

Establishing Common Law Marriage

The primary concern for long-time co-habitants in Pennsylvania is the uncertainty of the ability to establish a Common Law Marriage under Pennsylvania Law, especially upon the passing of one of the co-habitants. 

The resulting impact upon the surviving co-habitant/partner is oftentimes emotionally and financially devastating.  Accordingly, the options to avoid this very undesirable result include:

1. Undertaking a formal marriage process including license application and ceremony;

2. Having appropriate and legally prepared Wills executed;

3. Establishing beneficiary designations for retirement accounts, life insurance and other Transfer on Death (“TOD”) Accounts.

Estate Planning

If you or a family member are residing in a long term committed relationship, whether initiated prior to 2005 or subsequent to 2005, we strongly advise that an appointment be scheduled with one of our Estate Planning Attorneys to review your circumstances and consider steps to avoid unintended financial hardships and emotional distress.

Please contact our Office at (717) 299-7342 to schedule an Estate Planning


Posted in News on by Pyfer Reese.