No Divorce for You! Recent PA Divorce Case with Unique Twist

When parties file for divorce, they normally intend to simply follow procedure to split assets and legally end their relationship. Sometimes, things aren't that straight forward, and in a recent case, the parties actually had to prove they were ever even married in the first place.

The couple had been together since 1991 and entered a common law marriage in 1996 - or so thought the "wife", Yvette Rotundo. Rotundo was seeking a divorce from "husband" Patrick Jones when it was decided that their marriage was never valid. Pennsylvania abolished common law marriage in 2005; however, will still recognize those entered prior to that time. So what went wrong?

To have a valid common law marriage, both parties must have at a certain time, agreed that they are married. Proving this can be a challenge as it relies on a party presenting facts as evidence that a marriage was established pursuant to state requirements. In her appeal to the state court, Rotundo presented a conversation during which both parties agreed that they were married and a Mother's Day card that read, "I love you, my wife." The parties have two children together and the wife also contended that Jones presented a ring to her in 2003 in front of their children, indicating that it represented their marriage.

Unfortunately for Rotundo, the court found several discrepancies in dates she provided as well as documentation for the refinance of their home in 2010 where the parties were listed as single and found federal tax returns filed either single or head of household.

Though there are no valid common law marriages being formed since 2005, many still exist and are attempting to follow the divorce process. In this case, the couple was not entitled to proceed with equitable distribution and will likely miss out on entitlement to many shared assets. With the help of an attorney, they could have entered a formal contract at that time to help validate the existence of the marriage in the event of the divorce - sadly, they are facing a rather complex legal situation instead.

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