By: John M. Schaffranek, Esq.
Same-sex marriages were legalized in Pennsylvania on May 20, 2014. Up until that time, many same-sex couples in the Commonwealth had been living together for many years but without the ability to be married in Pennsylvania. Recently, courts have been addressing the issues presented when a same-sex couple has been together for many years prior to same-sex marriage becoming legal. In some instances, the question presented is whether a couple who had been together for many years could be deemed to have been common-law married.
In Pennsylvania, common-law marriage was abolished in 2005, meaning that, after that date, no new common-law marriages could be created. Common-law marriages created prior to that year, however, were left intact. As it relates to the issue mentioned above, therefore, possible candidates for a finding of common-law marriage would have had to have been together for nearly ten years, at a minimum, to possibly be considered to have a common-law marriage.
A trial court in Delaware County, Pennsylvania has recently issued a decision on this situation. In that case, two same-sex partners had been together since the early 1970s and had, since 1995, lived together as wives and held themselves out as such. One of the parties died in the fall of 2014 and the Delaware County Court was asked to determine whether the parties had a valid common-law marriage.
The Court decided that, because the parties would have had a common-law marriage in 1995 but for the law restricted marriages to opposite-sex couples that was later found to be unconstitutional, they would be deemed to have been married as of 1995.
While the decision of a trial court is not binding statewide, it does give some weight to this issue. The Delaware County Court also noted that a Bucks County Court had reached a similar conclusion. Should other courts follow in this line, then it may create a standard throughout the Commonwealth.
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