A common law marriage in Pennsylvania can be proven by two different methods.
Most importantly, virtually amounting to one of the most common misconceptions that pervades all areas of law, a Common Law Marriage has no temporal element to either of its tests (i.e., seven years). In other words, a couple can be common law married after just a short period of time or not common law married after many years.
Pa Common Law Marriage – Methods
The first method, and primary, test is applied when both of the parties are available to testify. This test requires proof of the exchange of words in the present tense – referred to as “verba in praesenti” – which are to be spoken with the specific purpose of creating the legal relationship of husband and wife.
The second method, and alternative, test is applied when either of the parties is unavailable to testify. This test then allows the creation of a rebuttable presumption in favor of a common law marriage where there is sufficient proof of cohabitation and reputation of marriage in the community.
Pa Common Law Marriage – Hostility
As is somewhat evident from these tests, and “[b]ecause claims for the existence of a marriage in the absence of a certified ceremonial marriage present a `fruitful source of perjury and fraud’,” Pennsylvania courts have long viewed such claims [of common law marriage] with hostility.