Most people are familiar with the concept of common law marriage, but much of what people think they know is based on rumor rather than fact. For example, many people incorrectly believe that living together for a certain period of time is sufficient to establish a common law marriage.

Common law marriages are a relic of history. These types of marriages came about when it was difficult to travel and it was not practical for a couple to find a priest or a justice of the peace to marry them legally. Common law marriage statutes allowed these couples to enjoy the legal benefits of marriage without a traditional ceremony.

Today, most states no longer allow common law marriage. Washington State does not have a common law marriage statue, but will recognize common law marriages legally entered into elsewhere. In the nine states (plus the District of Columbia) where common law marriages are allowed, a couples must still meet certain requirements in order to be considered married. These states generally require the couple to live together, intend to be considered married, and hold themselves out to the public as a married couple. Some states require couples to live together for a certain amount of time before recognizing a common law marriage.

The closest thing that Washington State has to a common law marriage is a committed intimate relationship (formerly called a meretricious relationship). The courts have recognized that long-term intimate relationships involve many of the same financial intertwining as marriage. The couple may share a home, a vehicle, furniture, or other types of property, all of which should be split up fairly between them.

In this type of case, a partner can ask a family court to intervene and divide property for the couple as though the property were community property. To determine if the couple qualifies, the judge will consider several factors, including:
• Whether there was continuous cohabitation
• The length of the relationship
• The purpose of the relationship
• Whether the couple combined their money to pay for joint property
• The intent of the couple in entering the relationship

When a meretricious relationship goes before the court, the judge will examine the relationship and divide assets and property between the two former partners. The judge can also determine each partner’s responsibility to pay joint debts, and can create a child support and custody arrangements for children of the relationship.

There is no requirement that a long-term couple go before a family law judge in order to decide these issues. Like any married couple, an agreement can be worked out privately between the couple or with the help of an experienced family law attorney or mediator. If, however, the couple cannot agree on their issues, the legal system can step in to make a determination on their behalf.

At Pacific Northwest Family Law, we understand that ending a relationship is never easy especially if you are unsure of your rights. Our knowledgeable Washington family law attorneys understand your situation, and will help you negotiate an agreement that allows you and your partner to move forward with your lives.

If you would like more information about your rights and obligations, call Pacific Northwest Family Law today at 360-926-9112, and set up your initial consultation.