Cohabitation, joint tax forms don't create common law marriage
Case name: PPL v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, No. 2264 CD 2009 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 09/10/10).
Ruling: The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board's decision denying the employer's termination petition.
What it means: A common law marriage can only be created by an exchange of words in the present tense, spoken with the specific purpose of creating the legal relationship of husband and wife. According to Pennsylvania law, the common law marriage must have been entered into before Jan. 1, 2005, to be valid.
Summary: The claimant received benefits as a dependent spouse after the death of her husband. The employer alleged that the claimant had remarried. The claimant cohabitated with a man, they engaged in sexual relations for a period of time, they filed tax returns as a married couple, and they represented to the man's employer that they were a married couple for insurance purposes. However, the couple never exchanged words in the present tense to form a contract for marriage. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court found that the employer failed to prove that the claimant entered into a common law marriage. The court scolded the couple for violating rules and procedures meant to protect the system and acting in bad faith by intentionally deceiving the man's employer, taxpayers, and the federal government.
The employer also argued that the workers' compensation judge failed to issue a reasoned decision. The court stated that the WCJ had the opportunity to observe the witnesses' behavior and render credibility determinations on that basis. The credibility determinations were not reviewable by the court.
The employer asserted that equitable principles required the termination petition to be granted. The employer pointed out that the claimant held herself out as married for tax forms and for financial benefit but disavowed her common law marriage to continue to collect workers' compensation benefits. The court stated that based on the credible evidence that she never entered into an agreement for marriage, the claimant was entitled to continued benefits.
The court noted that the claimant could face consequences for her improper conduct in another proceeding at another time.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
November 29, 2010
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