Legal Issues That Unmarried Couples Face In Washington
Few people realize that, in Washington, unmarried couples in committed, long-term, intimate relationships may have certain rights and protections when the relationship ends. In fact, these couples can go through a divorce-like process that addresses property and financial considerations. They can also put into place cohabitation agreements that have a similar legal effect as prenuptial or postnuptial agreements. These agreements can allocate responsibilities and rights regarding property owners, debts, finances and more.
We at Northwest Family Law, P.S., provide guidance for unmarried couples on all aspects of how Washington law impacts their rights and responsibilities. Our attorney focuses solely on family law, which means she brings a high level of skill and in-depth knowledge to these cases. Here, you will find a legal team that cares about your rights and future.
What Is A Committed Intimate Relationship?
Only couples who were in “committed intimate relationships” (CIRs) can pursue a divorce-like allocation of rights and responsibilities after a breakup. But what exactly is a CIR?
There is no bright-line test for deciding what amounts to a CIR. Courts look at a number of factors to make that determination, including:
- How long you’ve lived together
- How long the relationship has lasted
- Whether you intended to be in a committed, long-term, marriage-like relationship
- Whether you have joint property together
- Whether you have shared finances, credit cards, bank accounts and the like
- Whether you listed each other as beneficiaries in your estate plan, life insurance and other property
- Whether you have children together
- Whether you are state-registered domestic partners
The intent and duration of your relationship are perhaps the most important factors. If you intended to function as a married couple – building a life together, sharing responsibilities, raising children together and owning property together – then the relationship is likely a CIR, provided it was significant enough in duration. Talk to our lawyer about your specific situation.
“Divorce” In Committed Intimate Relationships
When a CIR ends, either party has the right to seek:
- Equitable distribution of their shared property, finances and debts in a manner akin to property division in divorce
- Enforcement of any cohabitation or domestic partnership agreements that both parties signed, similar to marital agreements (prenups/postnups)
Importantly, spousal support (also known as alimony) is usually not an option for unmarried couples, unless you specifically agreed to it in an enforceable domestic partnership agreement.
Ironing out these issues doesn’t necessarily have to be done in court. Our attorney can advise you on options for mediation or out-of-court settlements.
Paternity And Custody For Nonmarried Parents
Co-parents who aren’t married have the right to seek a paternity determination to establish legal fatherhood. Parentage can be established by:
- Signing and filing a legal acknowledgement of parentage
- Pursuing paternity proceedings in court
Once legal parenthood is established, the foundation is in place for allocating parental responsibility (child custody) through a parenting plan and pursuing child support. This is true regardless of how long you were in a relationship. The same custody and support standards apply to married and unmarried parents.
Get Experienced Legal Guidance To Protect Your Rights In An Unmarried Relationship
Whether you are already in a committed relationship and looking to spell out your rights and responsibilities through a legally binding agreement, have ended a long-term relationship and need help with untangling your property and finances, or are seeking to establish legal parenthood and all that entails it, you have come to the right place. We can help protect your rights and interests.