What happens when a couple breaks up after having lived together for many years and accumulated numerous joint assets like a home, vehicles, or other property or money? Who is entitled to keep certain shared property? What happens if they have kids? Who gets custody and does anyone owe child support or some other form of financial support?
Many states utilize what is called “common law marriage,” which means that a couple that lives in a de facto marital situation without legally tying the knot is still considered married by law after a certain period of time, particularly with regard to what each person is entitled to if the couple splits.
Washington State, however, does not recognize common law marriage and has no legislative statutes in place for the division of assets when a long-term, unmarried relationship is dissolved. Instead, Washington has adopted the doctrine of “Committed Intimate Relationships” through judicial case law. Washington courts recognize that, when a couple lives together in a situation similar to a marriage without the actual legal status, they still accumulate property that would have been considered “community property” if the couple had formalized a marital relationship. Thus, both partners have a legal claim to the property.
Also known as a “meretricious relationship,” committed intimate relationship status is a legal designation in the State of Washington where the courts bestow marital property rights upon a couple who has ended their relationship and who fulfill certain criteria that proves they were in a committed intimate relationship before they split. The dissolution of the relationship could be through a breakup, or it could also be caused by the death of one member of the relationship.
Washington does not have a specific legal definition of the criteria that constitutes a committed intimate relationship, but in general, the courts will examine the length of time that the two people were an exclusive, cohabiting couple, and how resources were pooled for joint projects or assets. They will also account for factors like the couple’s intent to be in a marriage-like relationship (like referring to one another as husband or wife) and whether or not the purpose of the relationship was similar to the purposes of most marriages (i.e. companionship, etc.).
If the courts find that a committed intimate relationship existed, they will aim to fairly divide the joint assets and property. Unlike a divorce, however, an ex-partner of a committed intimate relationship generally is not entitled to things like alimony (called “spousal maintenance” in Washington State) from their former partner. The court can help address committed intimate relationships involving children where establishing paternity, a parenting plan, or child support will be required after the relationship ends.
If you have lived together for some time with a partner in a marriage-like relationship, you have legal rights to shared property and assets, and certainly to your children if you have any together. If you believe you are in a committed intimate relationship, and it is ending or you suspect it will end, you should seek out an experienced family law attorney like those at the Law Office of Kenneth J. Levey, P.S.C. who can help you prepare to establish committed intimate relationship status and achieve a fair and equitable resolution to the end of your relationship.