Pennsylvanians who live together but who are not married may wonder if there is a way to enjoy the legal and financial benefits of marriage. These include sharing health insurance, and inheritance rights as well as certain tax deductions and more. In other words, do you have to get married to get marriage rights?
Common law marriage
One way to establish marriage rights without actually getting married is through common law marriage. Common law marriage does not require a ceremony or a license, but instead, is based on the intention of the couple.
In Pennsylvania, to be common law married, you must have established the marriage prior to January 1, 2005. Though, if you established a common law marriage in another state, and then moved here, our state will recognize it as well.
Another way to get marriage rights without a marriage is through a cohabitation agreement. This is a contract between you and your spouse that outlines your lives together, like how your finances are split, children are raised, etc. And, it can even outline a divorce-like property division process, child custody arraignment, child support and alimony-like payments, among many other items.
This will protect you both, should something happen, like death, a breakup or incapacitation. Though, it does not confer all marriage rights, like it does not allow you to get tax breaks or share insurance.
Another way to confer some marriage rights is through your estate plan. You can create a trust to the benefit of each other, should one of you die. You can make each other beneficiaries in your wills, make each other your power of attorney (in case of incapacity) and even name them your healthcare advocate. Remember, unmarried partners have very little rights and protections as spouses under Pennsylvania law, but adding each other to your estate plan gives each other rights.
Do we have to get married to get marriage rights?
If you want all the rights, then probably. With the exception of common law marriage, there is no way to get the exact same benefits of marriage without getting married. However, you can get most of the rights through cohabitation agreements and estate planning.