The Financial Risks of Living Together in Washington– Posted by Hillary J. Collyer
If you live together in the State of Washington and think that because you’re just “shacking-up” (or cohabiting) with your significant other outside of marriage your assets are protected in the event your relationship ultimately goes south ... you had better think again.
Although Washington State does not recognize common law marriages (except those originating in states that do recognize such form of marriage) it does recognize what is referred to as a “committed intimate relationship” or “CIR.” A CIR is a relationship in which the parties live together in a stable, marriage-like relationship with knowledge that a lawful marriage between them does not exist. Washington’s CIR doctrine is a judicially created concept used to resolve property distribution issues that arise when unmarried people separate or die after living in a marital-like relationship and acquiring what would have been considered community property had they been married.
Courts will find a CIR exists when domestic partners (either opposite- or same-sex) live together in a relationship that is deemed “tantamount to a marital family.” Whether a CIR exists depends on the facts of each case. Washington courts use a 3-prong test for dividing property when a CIR terminates. First, the court will decide if a CIR existed. To determine whether a CIR exists, the court will consider five non-exclusive factors, including:
- the continuity of the parties’ cohabitation;
- the duration of the relationship;
- the purpose of the relationship;
- whether the parties pooled resources and services for joint projects; and
- the intent of the parties.
Second, the court evaluates each party’s interest in the property acquired during the relationship. Property acquired and income earned during a CIR is presumed to be jointly owned and belong to both parties. In other words, assets acquired during a CIR are presumed to be community property, just like assets acquired during a marriage. However, this presumption may be rebutted. A party may overcome this rebuttable presumption by establishing by “clear and convincing” proof that the property is separate (i.e., by tracing with some degree of particularity the separate source of funds used for the acquisition).
Finally, the court will make a “just and equitable” distribution of the “community-like” property.
Partners in a CIR, like spouses, may change the status of their community-like property to separate property by entering into a property or cohabitation agreement. These agreements are synonymous with prenuptial agreements.
If you are living with someone in a marriage-like relationship or considering moving in with your partner and have questions or concerns about protecting your assets in the event of a break-up or upon death, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your options. Likewise, if you believe that you are in a CIR and may have rights to your fair share of your partners’ assets, feel free to contact me or one of the other family law attorneys at Lasher Holzapfel Sperry & Ebberson to set up a consultation.