Does Washington recognize common law marriage?


Washington state law does not recognize “common law” marriages unless the “common law marriage” was formed in another state that does recognize it.  Thus, for example, if a couple formed a common law marriage while they lived together in Louisiana for the amount of time required by Louisiana law to recognize a “common law marriage” but are Washington residents at the time of separation, the Washington family law court would treat the parties as having contracted a valid marriage in Louisiana.


Can a couple that has accumulated property while living together in Washington have the Washington court divide the property “as if” they had been married?


Washington law recognizes situations in which it would much more fair to treat a couple who jointly acquired property while engaged in a committed, intimate relationship similar to marriage, as though they were married. The relationship must be “stable” and “long term” to qualify for marriage-like property division treatment.  Such relationships are referred to in Washington case law as “meretricious”.  If the court finds on the petition of an intimate partner that a “meretricious” relationship existed and that during the relationship they acquired real estate or other property, the court will apply the same basic rules that guide the court when it has to divide a married couple’s community property.  Washington law on “meretricious” relationships is more complex that divorce law, in that the court must also decide if the “meretricious” relationship existed at all before it can apply community property division principles to division. 


“Community” property means property that was acquired by either partner during the relationship and from funds earned by either partner during the relationship.  “Community” property rules require that such property be “fairly and equitably” divided between the partners, regardless of whose name is on the property title.  Thus, for example:  if the parties bought a home during the meretricious relationship and took title only in one of their names, the home may nevertheless be treated by the court has though the “paper title” were in both names if funds earned by either partner during the relationship were used to purchase the home. 


Can an unmarried and non-registered domestic partnership obtain a court order of spousal maintenance (alimony) after separation?


No.  The right to request that the Washington family law court impose an order of spousal maintenance is limited to persons who are married or have a “registered domestic partnership”.  Even so, if an unmarried, unregistered couple mutually agrees that one should help the other one adjust financially following separation, they are free to do so by private agreement even though the court cannot order maintenance.


How can I get the court to divide the property my partner and I acquired during our relationship if we were not married and did not have a registered “domestic partnership”? 


You do so by filing a Petition with the Clerk of the Superior Court in the appropriate county.  In King County, the Clerk has recognized a specific type of case that is referred to as  “dissolution of an intimate partnership”.  The State of Washington does not have a specific mandatory Petition form for this type of case.  However, if you wish to file such a Petition, you should use the state’s mandatory form “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage/Domestic Partnership” and adjust it as necessary to reflect the date and places the two of you lived together rather than the date you were “married” or “registered the domestic partnership”.


Can a same-sex couple who did not register as Domestic Partners in Washington petition the court for a division of property acquired during the relationship?


Yes.  Both opposite and same sex “meretricious” relationships are recognized as a proper basis for “marriage like” division of community property by the court.  Registration of a Dmoestic Partnership, however, gives same-sex partners the additional right (like a married couple) to seek an order of spousal maintenance following separation.  Unmarried partners of both sexes cannot obtain spousal maintenance orders from the court.

Seattle Family Law
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Seattle Family Law handles divorce and family law for people in the Seattle and Puget Sound areas of Washington State, including Bellevue, Renton, Kent, Tacoma, Everett, Edmonds, Kirkland, Federal Way, Issaquah, Lynwood, Shoreline, Auburn and other communities in King County, Snohomish County, and Pierce County.