Marriage is no longer the norm for many modern couples. Nowadays, more couples are choosing to live like a married couple or have children together without saying “I do.” The problem is that ending this kind of marital-like relationship can lead to many difficulties similar to divorce, such as finances, property division and child custody.
Other states recognize the legality of common law marriage to divide assets or resolve custody, but Washington does not. Instead, the state only recognizes what is known as a committed intimate relationship (CIR).
Washington courts define CIR as a “stable, marital-like relationship where both parties cohabit with the knowledge that a lawful marriage between them does not exist.”
There are no specific standards for what makes a CIR. Instead, the court will base its decision on varying factors, such as:
- The duration of the relationship (how long the couple has been together)
- The purpose of the relationship (the reason for forming the relationship)
- The duration of continuous cohabitation (how long the couple has lived together)
- The property the couple purchased together (pooling of resources and services for joint projects such as buying a home)
- The intent of both parties (such as plans to get married in the future)
How is property divided in a committed intimate relationship?
If the courts determine that a couple has a CIR, they may be able to divide their property and debts, as well as seek child custody or support, in the same way as a regular divorce.
The unmarried couple may then be able to negotiate a settlement agreement, decide on a parenting plan, or seek child support. Unlike alimony, however, Washington does not award palimony or financial support to one person upon the termination of a nonmarital relationship.
Unwed couples should also note that Washington courts split property and debt equitably, not equally. Depending on their circumstances, one party may receive less or more than the other.
Breaking up after such a long and meaningful relationship is never easy. Having children and acquiring properties together can make it even more complex. Individuals facing the end of their marital-like relationship may consider speaking to a family law attorney to protect what is rightfully theirs.