Is There Common Law Marriage in Washington?

Posted On January 30, 2024 Washington Law

Common law marriage is a marital union without a marriage license and other legal requirements. Generally, the parties must live together and hold themselves out to be spouses. Many states have abolished common law marriages, but a few still allow them if they meet state-specific laws.

Does Washington State Recognize Common Law Marriage?

Washington does not recognize common law marriage. You could live with someone for decades, use their last name, and have children together, but the state would not recognize you as being married. Thus, you wouldn’t have the same rights as legally married spouses. While Washington does not recognize common law marriage, it does have something similar called a committed intimate relationship (CIR).

What Is a Committed Intimate Relationship in Washington State?

Committed intimate relationships were formerly known as meretricious relationships. A CIR is a marital-like relationship. There is no strict definition or criteria for determining whether a couple is in a committed intimate relationship. However, the more the relationship resembles a marriage, the more likely the court will be to find that a CIR existed between a couple. Factors judges examine when deciding if a couple is in a committed intimate relationship include:

  • The length of the relationship
  • The purpose of the relationship
  • Whether the parties have continuously lived together
  • Whether the parties include each other in their estate plans
  • The intent of the parties, including whether they held themselves out to be a married or devoted couple
  • Whether the parties took steps for the betterment of the relationship
  • Whether the parties pooled their resources, including owning joint property and having joint financial accounts

Meeting all the above criteria does not automatically qualify a relationship as a committed intimate relationship. Likewise, some CIRs will not exhibit all of the above criteria. Additionally, the court may consider other relevant information when making its decision.

What Are the Rights of Individuals in a Committed Intimate Relationship?

When the court determines that an unmarried couple is in a committed intimate relationship, the couple’s rights are similar to those of a married couple. If a couple in a CIR decides to end their relationship, they can petition the court to settle disputes such as:

The courts decide these issues based on the same laws for married couples. For instance, child custody decisions are based on the best interests of the children, and child support is based on the child support guidelines. Property division in Washington is based on community property standards. However, there are some significant differences in the rights that married couples have compared to the rights of a couple in a committed intimate relationship. For example, there is no legal obligation to pay spousal support or maintenance when a couple in a CIR ends their relationship. Therefore, barring a written contract for support and maintenance, the court will not grant spousal support. The courts will not award attorney’s fees in these cases. Each party must pay their own legal fees unless they agree otherwise. Additionally, couples in a CIR do not receive the same tax benefits as married couples. Furthermore, they do not inherit property from each other if they don’t have a will or other estate documents that leave property to their partner.

Do I Need a Cohabitation Agreement if I Am in a Committed Intimate Relationship in Washington?

A cohabitation agreement is a legally binding contract entered into by couples in a committed relationship who do not intend to marry. The contract defines the financial obligations and arrangements of an unmarried couple sharing the same home. The terms of a cohabitation agreement are customized based on the couple’s desires. However, common topics included in a cohabitation agreement include:

  • Gifts and inheritances acquired during the relationship
  • Division of income and assets acquired during the relationship
  • Intention regarding inheritance rights
  • How to divide and pay expenses and liabilities
  • Property division agreement upon death or separation
  • The process for resolving disputes regarding the terms of the contract
  • Agreement regarding financial support and maintenance

The agreement can discuss child custody and child support, but the court will rule on these matters according to the law and what is in the child’s best interest. Cohabitation agreements are enforceable in court if they are drafted and executed correctly. If you have questions about cohabitation agreements or committed intimate relationships, talk with an experienced Spokane family lawyer.  

Contact the Washington Family & Divorce Lawyers at Twyford Law Office To Get Legal Assistance Today

To learn more and get the help you deserve, call our divorce & family lawyers or reach out to Twyford Law Office online by visiting our contact us page. You can also visit our office at your nearest location.


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