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Unmarried Couples

It is not uncommon for couples, who reside together for several years, to never marry. However, during the relationship, debt incurs, assets are gained, and/or the couple has children together just as a married couple might. But what happens when you decide to break the relationship?

In Washington State, this type of relationship is legally referred to as a “Committed Intimate Relationship” (CIR). Similar to a divorce, you can petition the Court to dissolve your committed intimate relationship. However, you must prove that the relationship existed, as one party usually has more to lose and will often contest that the relationship existed. There are no exact standards laid out, but the Court regularly considers the following when determining whether there is a committed intimate relationship:

  • Duration of your relationship
  • Purpose/intent of your relationship
  • Whether you lived together continuously
  • Whether your relationship was stable and committed
  • Neither party was married to someone else during your relationship
  • Were resources pooled together?
  • Did the parties have joint goals and projects?
  • Was the relationship marital-like?

These are general considerations viewed by the Court, but there are many tiny details that can play a role in helping determine the intent and that the relationship existed such as naming each other in Wills or as beneficiaries on retirements, copies of lease(s), joint financial statements, etc. You should gather this information before discussing any details with your significant other.

There are some main differences between divorce and CIR.  For example, not all retirements can be divided, and the Court does not generally award spousal maintenance. Additionally, if you have children together, you must file a separate action to deal with custody/child support.

Given the dynamics and somewhat vague legal standards, you will want to talk with an attorney who specifically has experience in practicing these types of cases.

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