Modern couples are more likely to live together before marriage, prioritizing sharing a life and a home over a wedding. While a marriage certificate may not change the day-to-day aspects of their lives, partners who aren’t married face legal challenges if the relationship ends. If you’re splitting up after several years of living together but were never legally married, you should consult an experienced Washington divorce lawyer to ensure your rights are protected.
Common Law Marriage Vs Committed Intimate Relationships in Washington
A common law marriage involves two people who are not legally married but have been living together for several years and act as a married couple. Washington state recognizes common law marriages established in other states, but it does not have its own common law statute. The closest equivalent to a common law marriage in Washington is a committed intimate relationship (CIR).
Why Does Committed Intimate Relationship Status in Washington Matter?
In the past, couples who never married had few rights over the other’s interests. If one partner died, the other was not guaranteed to inherit their property or continue living in the shared home. If the relationship ended, one partner could take everything and leave the other destitute. Washington state created the CIR designation to protect committed unmarried couples from losing everything in the event of death or divorce.
Couples in a CIR don’t have the same rights as spouses when ending a relationship, but they do have certain financial and property interests. For instance, people in CIRs are not generally eligible for spousal maintenance unless they created a legally-binding cohabitation agreement in the early days of the relationship stipulating financial support.
That said, a CIR could entitle both partners to an equitable division of shared property acquired during the relationship. Since the majority of a couple’s assets qualify as community property, it’s highly beneficial for your relationship to be recognized as a CIR. However, it’s up to the court to rule that a CIR existed between you and your partner.
What Are the Criteria for Establishing a Committed Intimate Relationship in Washington State?
Both parties in a CIR must be capable of marrying, meaning they are both of sound mind, at least 18 years old, and not married to anyone else. If these basic requirements are met, the court will look for certain factors indicating the commitment and intent of the couple, including:
- The duration of the relationship. The longer the relationship, the more likely a court will rule that a CIR existed. There’s no required length of time a couple must be together, but couples in CIRs generally cohabitate for at least three years.
- Whether the relationship was continuous. The court will take into account whether you or your partner dated other people, broke up and got back together, or lived separately for any amount of time during the course of the relationship.
- Whether the couple took steps to create a marriage-like relationship. The court examines the ways your relationship is similar to a legal marriage, such as having children, taking the same last name, buying a home together, including each other in wills or estate plans, or sharing bank accounts and credit cards.
- Other relevant details. Details make a difference in establishing a committed relationship. For instance, a partner who stays at home to look after the children or moves a significant distance to benefit the other’s career has shown dedication to the relationship.
A Washington State Divorce Attorney Can Help You Prove a Committed Intimate Relationship Exists
An attorney can be invaluable in helping you separate from a long-term partner. In addition to gathering evidence to show that a committed intimate relationship existed, we can help you press your rights to child support and identify all shared assets that could be subject to division.
The decisions you make today will affect the rest of your life. Call the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny at 425-460-0550 today to arrange a private consultation, or read through our free guide, 9 Urban Myths About Divorce That Can Hurt You.