After two people live together in a romantic relationship for several years, several states recognize their relationship as a “common law marriage.” Each state considers different requirements to establish common law marriage, and not all states recognize these unions across state lines.

Washington State recognizes out-of-state common law marriages but uses a different statute to impart legal rights for long-term relationships. Washington recognizes couples who live together for several years in Committed Intimate Relationships (CIR).

Criteria for a committed intimate relationship

When establishing a CIR, courts do not consider any specific criteria. Courts look for evidence that a couple cohabitates in a way that resembles a marriage. Courts can recognize a CIR if the couple:

  • Has been exclusive in their relationship for at least two years;
  • Lives together, and has for years;
  • Pools resources or uses joint accounts;
  • Presents as a committed couple;
  • Names each other in their wills.

If the law establishes a CIR, it will extend some legal protections to the couple, similar to a marriage. Most of these protections trigger if the couple separates, allowing each “spouse” some legal peace of mind. Upon separation, Washington courts will rule over separation decision like a divorce:

  • Division of property: As with a marriage, courts consider all property acquired during the relationship as jointly owned and everything owned before as separate. The court will focus on a “just and equitable” distribution of assets upon separation.
  • Alimony or support payments: The State of Washington will not award alimony in a CIR, but it will establish child custody rules for co-parenting and child support payments.
  • Right upon death: Without a will, property owned by one partner does not automatically transfer to the other, as in a marriage.

Washington state also allows people entering retirement age to establish a domestic partnership to allow for late-in-life companionship, support and legal protection. A domestic partnership is available to couples with one partner over the age of 62.

A lawyer can answer questions

Washington couples with questions about establishing a CIR can reach out to a local attorney familiar with Washington’s unique marriage laws. A lawyer can help draw up legal paperwork to build more partnership protections, including wills, establishing power of attorney and designating beneficiaries.