Author: Larry S. Lofgren, Family Law Attorney
What rights does someone have after being in a close, marriage-like relationship with another person but they never married? The answer is not crystal clear but depends on several factors.
Washington does not have a common law marriage, but people who have been living in a marriage-like relationship can ask the courts to divide property and debt acquired during their marriage under the laws of a “committed intimate relationship.” A court cannot award spousal support (alimony) in a committed intimate relationship, but if the parties have children, it can enter a parenting plan and award child support. The legal recognition of a committed intimate relationship is based on a Washington Supreme Court decision, not a law passed by the legislature.
The Law on Committed Intimate Relationships
Under the court decisions, the court will look at five factors: 1. Continuous cohabitation; 2. Duration of the relationship; 3. Purpose of the relationship; 4. Pooling of resources and services for mutual benefit; and 5. The intent of the parties. No one of these factors is more important than another, there is no requirement that they all apply, and they are guidelines and not to be rigidly applied. They are not meant to be hyper-technical but are meant to reach all the relevant evidence that a committed intimate relationship existed.
Application of the Law: The Basics
Unlike a marriage, which has a very clear date when the marriage begins, determining when a committed intimate relationship began is difficult. A court might look to the day when a couple moves in together, but if some of the other factors are very strong, like a couple of pooled resources, considered themselves to be in a marriage-like relationship, and told people that they were, then a court might find that they had a committed intimate relationship during a time when they had separate homes but spend time together on a daily basis. If a couple holds themselves out to be married, though they know they are not, that would show an intent to have a committed intimate relationship. A court might also find that the committed intimate relationship did not end even if one party started a relationship with someone else and the parties were no longer sexually intimate.
If one party asks the other to marry them and is refused, it would indicate that there was no committed intimate relationship. A court might find a committed intimate relationship even though one party was still married to someone else during the relationship. Having a child together is not conclusive evidence of a committed intimate relationship and the court will instead apply the five factors mentioned above. The more a couple shares bank accounts, business operations, and other property, the more likely a court will find a committed intimate relationship.
Differences Between a CIR and a Marriage
A committed intimate relationship is not a common law marriage. There are significant differences. In addition to no spousal support being allowed, a court cannot divide property that would be separate, such as inheritance or gifts, as it can in a marriage to achieve fairness. Surviving committed intimate relationship partners do not inherit property automatically when there is no will as a spouse in a marriage would. In a marriage, a spouse automatically owns half the property acquired during marriage under Washington’s community property laws, but in a committed intimate relationship, a party has to show that they have an equitable interest – meaning they have to show fairness requires that they should have a portion of the property.
To learn more about The Committed Intimate Relationship, contact us today at View Ridge Family Law & Estate Planning at (206) 502-4748.