If you’ve been living in a committed relationship with someone but aren’t married, you may have questions about your legal rights. How are assets and debts divided if the relationship ends or one partner passes away? The term “common law” marriage is often misunderstood and isn’t recognized by every state.
Common Law Marriage Defined in Washington StateMany people believe that if they live in a committed relationship with a person long enough, they will be presumed to be married without having to sign the legal documents or have the ceremony. This is referred to as a common law marriage, and some states agree. Washington State, however, does not recognize common law marriage, but it does recognize those marriages that were created in the dozen or so states that allow them. To be married in Washington State, a couple must have a valid marriage ceremony as well as a license. The state also allows couples to register as domestic partners as long as one of the partners is 62 or older.
What Are “Committed Intimate Relationships”?While Washington State doesn’t recognize common law marriages, the law does address “marriage-like” relationships. A court might decide that you and your partner were in a “committed intimate relationship” (CIR), and use this as a basis for decisions regarding property division and other disputes. While there is no strict definition of what constitutes a CIR, the courts will look at a number of factors to make this determination. These include:
- How long the relationship lasted
- Whether you lived together continuously
- Whether your relationship was exclusive
- If you intended to act like a married couple
- How each person benefitted from the relationship
- Whether the relationship was committed and stable
- Whether you pooled resources such as buying assets together and having joint accounts