In 1998, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in the case of Staudenmayer v. Staudenmayer, implied that it was time to abolish common law marriages in Pennsylvania.
The Court noted that Pennsylvania courts have long viewed such claims with hostility, warned that the “continued viability [of common law marriages in Pennsylvania] is seriously in question,” but stopped short of abolishing them, concluding that “[w]hile we do not today abolish common law marriages in Pennsylvania, we affirm that claims for this type of marriage are disfavored.
“However, and unlike Staudenmayer, where the issue to abolish common law marriage was not raised on appeal, the issue was properly raised in PNC Bank Corp. In light of this distinction, the PNC Bank Corp. Court noted that “the parties have preserved and fully argued the issue, so it is squarely presented for our consideration, “and stated that “[m]any sound reasons exist to abandon a system that allows the determination of important rights to rest on evidence fraught with inconsistencies, ambiguities, and vagaries.
The circumstances creating a need for the doctrine are not present in today’s society. “The Court cited many reasons in support of its holding to abolish common law marriages in Pennsylvania. These reasons included the fact that “the marital status of parents no longer determines the inheritance rights of their children,” and “the right of a single parent to obtain child support is no longer dependent upon his or her marital status. “The PNC Bank Corp Court prefaced its holding by stating that “[a]lthough our Supreme Court, while declining to reach the issue [in Staudenmayer], “has raised the overruling axe so high that its falling is just about as certain as the changing of the seasons,” concluded its holding by stating that “[a]ccordingly henceforth, this court will recognize as valid only those Pennsylvania marriages entered into pursuant to the Marriage Law procedures.
As a caution, however, it is important to keep in mind that the Commonwealth Court may not be the final word here. Decisions from this court are always subject to being appealed to – and overruled by – the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and decisions from this court control only a limited scope of lower courts and administrative agencies (i.e., workers compensation, unemployment compensation, certain taxation issues, etc.).
As its existence in Pennsylvania grows increasingly precarious, it does appear that the door to the church of common law marriage in Pennsylvania may be closing forever. In light of this decision, when our clients say that they are married, do we still take their word for it?
Pa Common Law Marriage – Note
As stated in part one, Pa Common Law Marriage – 1 – Intro, the Pennsylvania Legislature, did in fact, render common law marriage proactively invalid after January 1, 2005, by statute (23 1103), stating that “[n]o common-law marriage contracted after January 1, 2005, shall be valid. Nothing in this part shall be deemed or taken to render any common-law marriage otherwise lawful and contracted on or before January 1, 2005, invalid.” (Nov. 23, 2004, P.L.954, No.144, eff. 60 days)