Cohabitant Cannot Prove Common Law Marriage after Denial of Spousal Support
A parent who cohabited with her children’s father sued for child support and spousal support in 2007. The parents lived together but never got a marriage license or held a formal marriage ceremony. Nevertheless, the children’s mother considered herself to have a common law marriage to the father. Her request for child support was granted in 2007, but the hearing officer denied her request for spousal support, finding that she was unable to prove a common law marriage. She did not file exceptions or take an appeal at that time.
Four years later, the mother filed a complaint for divorce against the father. The father denied that the parents were married, and asked the court to enter a judgment declaring that they were never married. The trial court agreed with father, holding that the mother lost her opportunity to prove a marriage when she failed to pursue the issue in the 2007 support proceeding. Mother appealed, arguing that she was not precluded from raising the issue again because the support proceeding was not the proper forum to decide the question of common law marriage.
On appeal, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s decision in Vignola v. Vignola, 2012 Pa.Super. 26 (2/17/2012). In its opinion, the Superior Court held that a declaratory judgment action was not the exclusive forum for determining common law marriage. Since the mother raised the issue in the 2007 support proceedings, and did not appeal the adverse ruling, she was collaterally estopped from contesting it four years later.