Marriage is not as black and white as it may seem. Some marriages are legally invalid and can be annulled, for example, while other marriages may exist without fulfilling all of the requirements of Washington’s marriage statute. If two people are in a committed long-term relationship and living together, it is sometimes referred to as a common-law marriage. The laws surrounding common-law marriage can be confusing in Washington. While the state does not permit this practice, it does have something similar, known as a Committed Intimate Relationship.
A common-law marriage is a marriage that is legally recognized between two people who did not get traditionally married under state law (with or without a wedding). The couple did not obtain a marriage license or satisfy the other typical requirements to become legally married. However, their marriage is still recognized in the eyes of the law – depending on the state’s stance on common-law marriage – because it fulfilled other requirements.
For the most part, a common-law marriage or informal marriage occurs when two people have been cohabitating and see themselves in a relationship that is the equivalent of marriage. They typically present themselves as married to the public but did not get married with all of the legal formalities. Depending on state law, a common-law marriage can be treated in much the same way as a traditional marriage.
Technically, Washington does not allow common-law marriages, although it does recognize common-law marriages from other states. Washington’s equivalent is a Committed Intimate Relationship, which applies to both an opposite-sex and same-sex couple. Revised Code of Washington Section 26.60.010 states that if two people are in an intimate, committed and exclusive relationship, the state provides a legal framework that extends many of the same rights and benefits to these couples as couples who have married under the state’s marriage statutes.
If two people are recognized as being in a Committed Intimate Relationship in Washington, they are given certain legal rights that are similar to married couples in terms of the division of property, child custody and child support at the end of a relationship. While the couple does not need to obtain an official divorce to dissolve their Committed Intimate Relationship, they will need to negotiate a settlement or go to court to determine the terms of the split, much like any other married couple.
The same law in Washington continues on to specifically address Committed Intimate Relationships where one or both of the parties are over the age of 61. If older couples choose not to marry – such as due to restrictions set by Social Security and pension laws – they can enter into a state-registered domestic partnership. This can allow the couple to receive financial benefits that are typically only reserved for married couples in Washington.
If you are in a Committed Intimate Relationship or a common-law marriage from another state that is recognized in Washington and are ending your relationship, prepare for the process ahead by consulting with a family law attorney.While you will not have to go through all of the legal processes involved in a traditional divorce, you will need to use the same legal standards to divide your shared assets and debts, create a parenting plan, determine child custody, and resolve the other key aspects of the split.
A lawyer can help you understand your parental rights and divide your property according to the laws in Washington that pertain to your long-term relationship. A lawyer can also represent you during negotiations with your partner, such as mediation or arbitration, to decrease your odds of needing a judge to intervene. For more information about common-law marriages or Committed Intimate Relationships in Washington – including if you wish to end yours – contact Cohen Family Law, LLC to request a free consultation with an attorney.