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Philadelphia Family Lawyer > Blog > Family Law > Does Pennsylvania Recognize Common Law Marriages?

Does Pennsylvania Recognize Common Law Marriages?


Although many people enter into a marriage to make their relationship and commitment and official, that path is not for everyone. Some people are very content to live together as husband and wife, but they do not need a ceremony or a marriage license. These situations are typically referred to as ‘common law marriages,’ and they are some of the most misunderstood relationships in Pennsylvania. It is crucial that anyone in this type of relationship understands what the law says about it, and how to protect their rights.

Common Law Marriages in Pennsylvania

Prior to January 2, 2005, Pennsylvania recognized common law marriages. After the law was abolished, common law marriage was no longer recognized in the state. However, anyone that entered into a common law marriage prior to that date is still recognized as being married subject to certain conditions. Individuals that believed they entered into a common law marriage after that point are mistaken and, without taking the proper steps, may not be as protected as they think if the relationship breaks up.

Still, even before January 2, 2005, Pennsylvania still had certain grounds for common law marriages. Anyone wishing to enter into this type of relationship must be legally allowed to marry within the state and must state their present intent to marry. Present intent is important. The couple must be willing to marry the person in the present, instead of simply assuming or talking about getting married in the future.

Protecting Your Rights

When a couple in a common law marriage breaks up, particularly if they entered into the relationship after January 2, 2005, they do not have the same rights as a married couple that gets divorced. This means that the breakup is not subject to the state’s property division laws, and that couples could leave themselves unprotected. Cohabitation agreements can provide the protection couples need, but it is important that these contracts include some important provisions. These include provisions regarding:

  • Property that was acquired prior to the relationship
  • Property that was received as a gift or an inheritance
  • Property that was acquired during the relationship and by each person in the couple
  • How bill payment is divided between the couple
  • Agreements for dispute resolution, such as an agreement to go through mediation to resolve disputes

When common law relationships end, it can be just as stressful as going through a divorce and the fact that the law does not provide a lot of protection for couples can make it even more difficult. Cohabitation agreements are very similar to premarital agreements, and can provide couples the protection they need.

Our Pennsylvania Family Lawyer can Help with Your Agreement

Although Pennsylvania law does not recognize common law marriages, it does not mean there are no steps to take that can help protect you. At the Law Offices of Lauren H. Kane, our Philadelphia family lawyer can help you draft an agreement that will uphold your rights in the event that the relationship dissolves. Call us today at (215) 918-9453 or contact us online to schedule your consultation.

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