We are in a new time. Many couples choose to build their lives together without the bonds of holy (or no so holy) matrimony. Great. Not an issue at all. Except for you when you want to separate. How does all that “stuff” get divided? Do you get to go through a divorce? How does an unmarried couple breakup?
I get a lot of calls, emails, or questions regarding common law marriage here in Washington. I really don’t like being the barer of bad news but it comes with the territory, THERE IS NO COMMON LAW MARRIAGE IN WASHINGTON. I know shocking and most are shocked or confused when I tell them this. See what they are looking for is something that says after 7, 10, or 15 years in a relationship with someone that they are entitled to a “divorce” and any benefits that may come along with that. That may be how it works other places but not here.
The state of Washington does not have common law marriage. So that means there is no magic number and there is no automatic assumption of a “marriage”. What Washington does have is Committed Intimate Relationships, called CIRs and formerly known as meretricious relationships. With a CIR you have to demonstrate that you were in fact in a committed intimate relationship. The court looks at several factors to determine if that was actually the case: length of relationship, did you hold each other out as a couple, were you exclusive, did you pool resources, etc. A CIR is only about the property and debts. And only about the property and debts that were acquired during the relationship. It is not necessarily a 50/50 spilt but a “fair and equitable” one.
There are some differences between CIRs and divorces. For instance, there will not be the same type of tax benefits. There will also be no spousal maintenance. This one comes as the biggest surprise to people but no you are not entitled to any sort of maintenance when in a CIR, unless you have a contract stating otherwise. Also you cannot get your attorney’s fees paid for by your ex. Each of you will need to fund your own legal team.
So while there is no common law marriage here in Washington there are ways to divide property and establish that there was a relationship.