Is There Common-Law Marriage in Washington State?

Marriage is usually pretty simple—it’s either a yes or a no. Relationships, on the other hand, can get complicated. Have you ever heard of a “common-law marriage”? It’s when two people live together as a married couple without going through a formal wedding ceremony. Some states recognize these unions, but others do not.

Does Washington State Have Common-Law Marriage?

In Washington State, there is no such thing as a common-law marriage. The state’s statutes make it clear that any couple wishing to get married must obtain a valid marriage license and go through the proper procedures.

This doesn’t mean that individuals in long-term relationships do not have legal rights.

In Washington state, common-law marriage is not recognized, but there is a concept called Committed Intimate Relationships that grants legal rights to long-term partnerships.

common law marriage washington

In Washington state, common-law marriage is not recognized.

What’s a Committed Intimate Relationship as Defined by Washington Law?

In Washington, the concept of Committed Intimate Relationships (CIR) serves as a legal framework to recognize and provide rights for long-term partnerships that resemble a marital union, despite the absence of a valid marriage certificate. Formerly known as “meretricious relationships,” the terminology has evolved to reflect the changing societal landscape.

In determining whether or not a CIR exists, there are multiple factors that need to be addressed. The establishment of a Committed Intimate Relationship is not always a clear answer.

Establishing a Committed Intimate Relationship provides many benefits similar to those of a Common Law Marriage, along with specific rights, limitations, and responsibilities in the event of separation.

To be considered a Committed Intimate Relationship, couples must demonstrate a substantial commitment to each other through various aspects of their shared life.

This includes:

  • living together for an extended period,
  • pooling financial resources,
  • the purpose of the relationship,
  • and enjoying the emotional and practical benefits of a marital-like relationship, such as companionship and support.

The court carefully evaluates the circumstances of the relationship and makes a determination based on criteria spelled out in the statute and in case law. The designation of a CIR is crucial as it helps the legal system address important financial matters when these relationships come to an end.

In many ways, the process resembles divorce proceedings, offering a means to protect the interests of individuals involved in committed long-term relationships under Washington law.

What’s the Difference Between a Marriage and Committed Intimate Relationships?

The law regarding committed intimate relationships (CIR) applies to unmarried individuals who live together and share rights in common property ownership. CIR is also known as an equity relationship. It refers to a stable, marriage-like relationship where both parties are fully aware that there is no legal marriage between them.

In contrast, a marriage is established by the execution of a Marriage certificate. One of the biggest differences between dissolving a marriage vs. a committed intimate relationship in Washington state is that in the latter neither spouse may ask for assistance with attorney fees or request spousal maintenance. In a marriage both options are available remedies.

Criteria for Establishing a Committed Intimate Relationship (CIR)

At Bliss Law Group, we have experience in helping clients navigate the intricacies of committed intimate relationships (CIR) in Tacoma, Washington. If you find yourself in a long-term, unmarried relationship and want to understand the legal rights and protections available to you, our experienced Tacoma family law attorneys are here to guide you.

Here are the criteria for establishing a CIR:

Length of the Relationship

The relationship should involve at least three years of cohabitation and must demonstrate a substantial commitment and stability between the partners.

Continuity of Cohabitation

The relationship should be continuous, without extended periods of separation. Evidence of shared living arrangements over an extended period supports the existence of a CIR.

Money Handling

How finances are managed is an essential aspect of a CIR. Factors such as co-ownership of property and joint financial accounts contribute to establishing a CIR.

Existence of Joint Accounts

Jointly owned bank accounts or shared credit cards indicate a level of financial interdependence. You also must demonstrate a mutual commitment to managing finances together.

Existence of Wills

Partners naming each other in estate planning documents signifies an intention to provide for one another. Having wills in place shows the recognition of rights and responsibilities within the relationship.

Determinations and Protections

Once the existence of a CIR is established, the court can make determinations regarding property division, debts, and child support. Property acquired during the relationship is typically considered jointly owned and subject to distribution in a similar manner as in a traditional marriage.

Child support and custody matters can be addressed within the CIR proceedings.

In the event of the death of one partner without a will, the surviving partner may not be entitled to inheritance, and distribution follows traditional laws governing next of kin.

Speak with an Attorney

Navigating the criteria for establishing a CIR can be complex, and our skilled family law attorneys at Bliss Law Group are here to assist you. We can provide expert guidance tailored to your specific circumstances, ensuring your rights and interests are protected.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn more about how we can help you with your committed intimate relationship and family law matters.

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