Committed Intimate Relationship

What is a Committed Intimate Relationship?

Some people may have heard of common-law marriage, where a couple presents themselves as married for a long time, creating a legal status of marriage without actually getting married. However, Washington State does not recognize common-law marriages. Instead, it recognizes a legal doctrine called “committed intimate relationship” (CIR). While there are similarities between the two concepts, there are also differences. In the case of a CIR, certain assets and debts may be divided, even if there was no official marriage.

What are the elements a court may consider?

The Court does not offer a definite definition of when a CIR might apply. While the 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, the 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 applies 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, CIRs 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?

A Contiguous Intimate Relationship (CIR) can have two different effects. Firstly, it can be a standalone concept where individuals who never marry can still make property claims during their relationship. Secondly, a CIR can be relevant for married couples when determining the start of their relationship for community property distribution purposes. If a CIR existed before marriage, it extends the period of time to consider property as community property. To navigate these complexities, it is advisable to consult with an attorney.

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

The best way to prevent a CIR (Common-law Intimate Relationship) and its potential consequences is to have a non-marital cohabitation agreement in place.

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