Married or not, if you lived with someone for several years, and if you were in a committed relationship with him or her, you likely amassed a significant amount of property together. If your relationship ends, you may wonder what will become of that property. Must you fight over it, or is there a more civil way to handle its distribution?

While the state of Washington does not recognize common law marriages, the law does account for “committed intimate relationships.” If it decides that your relationship was stable and “marriage-like,” you may have to go through the legal property distribution process in which the judge will divide certain assets and debts that you acquired during your time together.

Property that the court may divide at the end of a marriage-like relationship

According to the University of Washington School of Law, the law assumes that any property you acquired during your relationship is joint property. If you cannot show otherwise, the judge presiding over your case will divide said property equitably. Equitably does not mean equally, but in a way that is fair. To determine what is fair, the courts will consider the following:

  • The length of your relationship
  • The nature and extent of your property
  • The nonfinancial contributions of you and your partner
  • Each of your financial situations at the time of the separation

When distributing property, the courts will work to ensure that neither party benefits at the expense of the other.

Property that the courts will not divide

The traditional rules for property division apply to CIRs, meaning that separate property will remain separate at the end of the relationship. Separate property is property that either party owned before entering the relationship, received as a gift during the relationship or inherited. Furthermore, if the courts determine that one party contributed significantly more labor or money to the relationship, it may order the other party to repay the other for the contribution.