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Can I Get A Common Law Divorce?

Posted By Attorney Jim Cairns || 5-Sep-2012

Can I Get A Common Law Divorce?


There has been some confusion around common law marriages, also known as a sui juris marriage, and how to get a "common law divorce". Many people believe that if you live together for seven years or more you are considered married. This is a myth. Currently in the state of Pennsylvania a person cannot have a common law marriage. Also, the term common law divorce does not legally exist – though a person in a common law marriage can get an uncontested Pennsylvania divorce.

When two people live together they are not considered married unless they have a marriage license, or have had a common law marriage prior to January 1, 2005 in the state of Pennsylvania. Cohabitation does not qualify as being married even if the couple had children. Both adults would have had to consent to their status as married; which could be proven in many ways, including but not limited to holding themselves out as married (calling each other "husband" and "wife", through tax records, joint financial accounts or a female taking the male's last name.

Prior to 2005, common law marriage was recognized by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for 130 years. During the times of Ancient Greece and Romans, the state did not normally get involved in marital matters, they did not even keep a registry or record of marriages. Marriage was recognized by the community and considered a private matter between individuals and their families. The English actually brought common law marriage to the colonies in the United States. By the 20th century many states had abolished common law marriages, including Pennsylvania.

If you have a common law marriage in a different state and you or your spouse have relocated to Pennsylvania you can get a simple, no-fault, uncontested divorce. The state does recognize the marriage if it is properly formed in the state which it was legally permitted. It is not called a common law divorce, but simply referred to as a simple, no-fault, uncontested divorce.

Women in common law marriages can also have their names changed to thier maiden or prior married name. Females will need a legal document showing a change of name in order for banks, government agencies and other private business to officially accept the name change. A name change can be done at the same time a divorce is filed. You will need a name change granted by the court in order to get your social security card and Pennsylvania driver's license changed to your new name.

In addition, a marital settlement agreement can be written up for a couple in a common law marriage. This is a good idea if you have shared property or debt and/or children. We have an entire section in our legal blog for marital settlement agreements which will give you an understanding of what it is and items you can include. Also, Attorney James Cairns does have a free questionnaire which will guide you through the process.

Once you are ready to file for an uncontested divorce, name change and/or martial settlement agreement, contact Attorney James Cairns for a free consultation at 888.8636.9115. For an immediate free virtual consultation visit our DIVORCE WIZARD.