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Betty A. Moser v. Ronald Renninger

March 6, 2012

BETTY A. MOSER, APPELLEE
v.
RONALD RENNINGER, SR., APPELLANT



Appeal from the Order Entered May 13, 2011 In the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County Civil Division at No(s): 10-20253

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stevens, P.J.

J-A07010-12

BEFORE: STEVENS, P.J., PANELLA, J., and MUNDY, J.

OPINION BY STEVENS, P.J.

Ronald R. Renninger, Sr. ("Husband") appeals from the May 13, 2011 order entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County, which declared that a common law marriage existed between Husband and Betty A. Moser ("Wife"), thus denying Husband's petition for declaratory relief and permitting Wife to amend her complaint in divorce. Finding Husband's appeal is from a non-appealable interlocutory order, we quash this appeal.

The relevant facts and procedural history are as follows: On November 19, 2010, Wife filed a complaint in divorce alleging she and Husband were married on August 27, 1982, in Oley, Pennsylvania. On March 3, 2011, Wife filed a motion to amend her complaint in divorce indicating, inter alia, that the parties entered into a valid common law marriage. Wife clarified that, although the parties began cohabitating in August of 1982, their common law marriage commenced on June 8, 1985, when the parties exchanged verba in praesenti.

On March 4, 2011, Husband filed a petition for declaratory relief seeking, inter alia, a declaration that no common law marriage existed between the parties. Wife filed an answer to Husband's petition for declaratory relief, and on May 12, 2011, the trial court held an evidentiary hearing. On May 13, 2011, the trial court filed an order ruling that "after hearing held on [Husband's] Action for Declaratory Relief, the Court finds the parties entered into a common law marriage on June 8, 1985. The parties are declared to be lawful Husband and Wife under Pennsylvania common law. It is further ordered that [Wife's] Motion to Amend Divorce Complaint is granted."

Thereafter, on June 3, 2011, Wife filed an amended complaint in divorce asserting the parties entered into a valid common law marriage on June 8, 1985, and the marriage is irretrievably broken. Wife sought equitable distribution, alimony, and alimony pendente lite. On Monday, June 13, 2011, Husband filed a notice of appeal from the trial court's May 13, 2011 order. On September 12, 2011, Wife filed a motion to quash

Husband's appeal as interlocutory, and Husband filed an answer indicating, in relevant part, that "pursuant to the Declaratory Judgments Act 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 7531-7541, the Common Pleas Court's order...has the force and effect of a final judgment or decree."

Preliminarily, we note that "where a decree in divorce has not been entered and ancillary claims remain unresolved, issues such as those seeking special relief, are interlocutory and unappealable." Radakovich v. Radakovich, 846 A.2d 709, 714 (Pa.Super. 2004) (quotation, quotation marks, and citation omitted). In the case sub judice, inasmuch as a divorce decree has not yet been entered, and economic claims remain pending, we find the trial court's May 13, 2011 order does not end the litigation.

Therefore, the trial court's order finding that a marriage exists is an interlocutory, non-appealable order.*fn1 See Caplan v. Caplan, 713 A.2d 674 (Pa.Super. 1998).

We specifically find unavailing Husband's contention that, "pursuant to the Declaratory Judgments Act 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 7531-7541, the Common Pleas Court's order...has the force and effect of a final judgment or decree."

The Declaratory Judgments Act provides that

[c]courts of record, within their respective jurisdictions, shall have power to declare rights, status, and other legal relations whether or not further relief is or could be claimed. No action or proceeding shall be open to objection on the ground that a declaratory judgment or decree is prayed for. The declaration may be either affirmative or negative in form ...


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