Registered Domestic Partnerships – Couples who register their domestic partnerships are treated exactly the same as married couples under the law in Washington State. This is true for partnerships registered in Washington State or in another state. For information on what to expect in an action to dissolve a domestic partnership please see the Divorce, Custody and Visitation, Property Division, Spousal Maintenance and Child Support Tabs.
Committed Intimate Relationships – Couples who have been in a long-term, committed intimate relationship may have recourse in the courts even though there is no legal recognition of their relationship as a marriage or registered domestic partnership. Washington State does not recognize common law marriage - which essentially treats long term relationships that meet certain criteria as marriages. Washington State provides relief for undocumented couples through the Court’s equitable powers.
How do you know if your relationship is a committed intimate relationship?
The courts consider several nonexclusive factors and apply them to the specific facts presented in each case to determine if the relationship in question meets the definition of a long term, intimate committed relationship. The factors the courts consider are: the length of the relationship, continuous cohabitation; the purpose of the relationship; whether or not the parties pooled their resources; performed joint services for the betterment of the relationship; and the intent of the parties.
Committed intimate relationships are described as stable, marital-like relationships where both parties cohabit with knowledge that they are not lawfully married.
What relief is available from the court if your long term, committed intimate relationship is ending?
Once a court determines that a committed intimate relationship exists, the court must make a just and equitable distribution of property. When doing so, the court will apply the principals of community property by analogy. (See Community Property Tab) The court may only divide property that would be considered community property if the parties were married. This includes all real or personal property purchased by one or both parties using funds earned during the relationship; contributions to any retirement accounts made during the relationship and the increase in value related to those contributions; pensions earned during the relationship. The court has no authority to divide either party’s separate assets.
Unlike in a marriage or registered domestic partnership dissolution, the court does not have the authority to award spousal maintenance or attorney’s fees in the dissolution of a committed intimate relationship.