Monday, January 18, 2016

Committed Intimate Relationships

What is a Committed Intimate Relationship?

Some people may have heard of the concept of common-law marriage, where a couple holds themselves out as a married couple for a long period of time creating the legal status of a marriage, even though they never actually got married. Washington State does not recognize common law marriages, but it does recognize a legal doctrine called “committed intimate relationship” (CIR). There are some similarities between the two concepts, but there are also differences. If a CIR exists certain assets and debts may be divided (both parties claim an interest), even if a marriage was not in existence.

What are the elements a court may consider?

The court does not offer a definite definition of when a CIR might apply. While length of the relationship is a pretty important consideration, the courts of Washington have set forth numerous variables. The court will consider the following factors: 

·         How continuous the couple has been living in the same home;
·         The duration of the relationship;
·         The extent the couple has pooled resources (e.g. bank accounts, mortgages, etc.);
·         The intent of the parties (e.g. discussed having children together, marriage, and/or creating wills together); and
·         Purpose and benefits of the relationship (e.g. friendship, love, sex, and mutual support). 

If such a relationship exists what does this mean?

If such a relationship exists property of even an unmarried couple may be equitably divided.  Community property tends to refer to all property acquired between a husband and wife while they are married, minus gifts or inheritance. Community property would apply to both debts and assets. Often property acquired before the relationship or after the relationship would be considered separate property. While not always the case, often times, when property is considered community it is divided equally 50/50.
Unlike a marriage, CIR’s have limitations. A person who was in a CIR is not able to receive maintenance (alimony) and may not receive attorney fees. Possibly, a person may be able to receive a share of the other person’s retirement benefits though, similar to marriage. 

What are my options and rights?

Often a CIR might come into effect in two different ways. It can be a stand alone concept where the parties never get married, yet a person can make a claim that property during the length of the relationship be divided. A CIR could also be relevant when the parties do get married, and the court is trying to determine when the relationship started for community property distribution purposes. A community relationship might exist before the actual date of marriage if a CIR existed before the parties got married. Therefore, this would create a longer time period in determining what property should be considered community property. An attorney is going to be in the best position to sort these issues out.

What if the two of us do not want such relationship to exist?

The best way to avoid a CIR and the possible results of such a relationship would be to sign a non-marital cohabitation agreement.

Feel free to give my office a call if you have any additional questions.

Luke Larson (Managing Attorney at Legal State of Mind)

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