December 12, 2012

Unmarried Couples

"Common law marriages" are not recognized in Washington State. (Washington does, however, recognize common law marriages from other states that authorize them). Instead, Washington has a "committed intimate relationship" or "meretricious relationship" doctrine that governs unmarried couples who live together in "marriage-like" relationships. These laws allow the court to make a "fair and equitable" division of certain property and debt acquired during the relationship when the couple separates. 

There are no hard and fast rules that determine whether a relationship qualifies as "marriage-like" enough to invoke the protections of these laws. Generally, however, the court will consider things like:

  • Duration of the relationship
  • Whether the couple lived together continuously
  • Purpose of the relationship
  • Joint pooling of resources and services
  • Whether both parties knew a legal marriage did not exist between them
  • Stability and monogamy
So then what's the difference between a court's division of property among married couples and unmarried couples? The biggest difference is that the court cannot divide and allocate an unmarried couple's separate property. "Separate property" is property acquired before the relationship or property received by one of the partners by gift or inheritance. 

For more information, contact a Kirkland family law attorney

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