What is Common Law Marriage?
This is an old concept whereby a couple can become “married” simply by living together long term and holding themselves out as a married couple, such as telling people they are married, holding property as a married couple, etc.
Is There Common Law Marriage in Washington State?
A few states do recognize some form of common law marriage, but Washington is not one of them.
However, in Washington State we do have a doctrine that is somewhat similar to common law marriage called “Committed Intimate Relationship” (CIR), whereby a couple may be treated like a married couple for some purposes but not for others.
What is a Committed Intimate Relationship (CIR)?
Under the CIR doctrine, if a couple has lived in a stable long term marriage-like relationship, they may acquire property rights similar to a married couple.
Unfortunately there is no exact definition of what constitutes a CIR. Rather, in each case it is up to the court to weigh various factors to decide whether a CIR existed. These factors include:
- the length, continuity, and exclusivity of the relationship
- pooling of resources (like joint accounts or debts)
- acting as if you are married
- long term planning together
- knowing that you are in fact not married
- not being married to anyone else during the relationship
If the court finds that a CIR existed, then property and debt will generally be divided similar to a marriage in the case of divorce. In other words, property and debt acquired during the committed intimate relationship is usually treated as community, i.e. belonging to both parties jointly (though certain kinds of property may remain as separate property).
Just as for a married couple, this does not mean it is divided 50/50. The court can again look at various factors including the needs of both parties and the length of the relationship in deciding what a fair division should be.
What is the Difference between a Committed Intimate Relationship and Common Law Marriage?
A Committed Intimate Relationship is used for dividing assets. The existence of a CIR does not give the court authority to order spousal support (alimony) as in a divorce.
A CIR also does not convey any special status as to parenting rights or child support. Issues related to children rely on parentage status, not on marital status.