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Overview of Common Law Marriage

Posted by attorney April Townsend

Moser v. Renninger, 2012 PA Super 59 (2011) discusses the procedure and timing for establishing or challenging the existence of a common law marriage. Common law marriage could be established in Pennsylvania up until January 1, 2005. All common law marriages established before that date are recognized as valid marriages. In order to establish a common law marriage, the parties must have exchanged words of intent to be married and held themselves out to their community as being married. Once a common law marriage is established, it can only be resolved by divorce just as with any regular marriage. In Moser v. Renninger, Wife filed a divorce complaint on November 19, 2010 stating that her and Husband had entered into a valid common law marriage in 1985. Husband subsequently filed an Action for Declaratory Relief asking the court to declare that no common law marriage existed. After an evidentiary hearing on the matter the court held a common law marriage was in fact established on June 8, 1985. Husband immediately sought to appeal the court's finding that common law marriage existed. Husband's appeal was denied on the basis that it was premature. Because the issue of whether there was a common law marriage was raised in the context of the divorce, the court found that Husband could not file an appeal until the divorce matter is final. If, however, the issue of common law marriage had been addressed separately, an appeal following the decision would be appropriate as the entire matter would be concluded.

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