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Not Married?

Yesterday's local headline sure got our attention. Our county Register of Wills, who also handles marriage licenses, issued a warning. My husband and I might not be married.

When I told a friend today, she said, "But I saw you two get married with my own eyes!"

A judge in York County handed down a ruling earlier this month. So far, it applies only in that one county, but it leaves things rather murky in all the rest. Ordained ministers without a congregation that meets regularly, the judge says, don't have that "power vested in me by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania" they claimed at the wedding. Even though the county took our money and issued us a marriage certificate, the existence of our marriage could be contested -- by either of us to avoid a divorce settlement, by a relative coveting an inheritance if we didn't have wills, or by a district attorney hoping to force one of us to testify against the other, just for starters.

So we'll be counting on the friend who saw it with her own eyes and all the rest of our wedding guests if we ever need to call on Pennsylvania's Common Law Marriage provision. It was still in effect when we married. Because they heard us say our vows back then, we're still legally married.

A lot of other Pennsylvanians who got married more recently will need to start over with a new marriage license and a different officiant or face the possibility of seeing their married status vanish into thin air right when they most need it.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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