Common Law Marriage Washington: Meaning

common law marriage washington

Marriage is typically a black-and-white proposition: you are either married or you are not, notwithstanding the complexity of relationships. No matter how big or small the wedding, you probably won’t forget it. Long-term partnerships in which there isn’t a formal marriage are referred to as “common-law marriages.” However, a lot of people aren’t quite sure what that implies. That is why people ask, Is there common law marriage in Washington? and what a committed intimate relationship is all about.

What Exactly Is a  Common Law Marriage?

A common-law marriage is an officially acknowledged partnership between two individuals who have lived together for some time and have presented themselves to friends, family, and the public as “married,” but they have never held a formal ceremony or obtained a marriage license. It’s interesting to note that common-law couples cannot dissolve their partnership without filing for divorce.

Are there common-law marriages In Washington?

Washington is not one of the few states that accepts common-law marriage in any form.

However, Washington State does offer a doctrine known as “committed intimate relationship” (CIR), which allows a pair to be classified as a married couple for some purposes but not for others. This doctrine is somewhat comparable to common law marriage.

Common Law Marriage Washington: What Is a Committed Intimate Relationship

What defines a committed intimate relationship—also known as a meretricious, quasi-marital, or marital-like relationship—is not strictly defined. Nonetheless, a judge is more likely to view a relationship as committed and intimate if it has the characteristics of a marriage.

The court will take into account the following elements in determining whether or not there was a committed intimate relationship:

  • How long the partnership has lasted?
  • Constantly living together
  • The relationship’s objective
  • Parties’ intentions
  • Regardless of whether the parties combined their funds
  • Whether the parties cooperated to strengthen their connection

It is not required for all of these elements to be present to prove that an intimate relationship is committed. Furthermore, not every relationship exhibiting all of these characteristics will be considered an intimate, committed partnership. Last but not least, the court may rule that a CIR exists even if the parties could otherwise lawfully wed.

Rights in Committed Intimacy Partnership

An unmarried couple’s rights and obligations are comparable to those of married couples if the court finds that their connection qualifies as a CIR. In situations where a couple is unable to come to a mutually agreeable resolution, the court may need to intervene.

The following are the most frequent problems that crop up when a committed, intimate relationship ends:

  • Choosing custody and support for children
  • Deciding on property ownership rights and asset distribution
  • Dividing up the obligations and debts

The division of assets and property is frequently the most divisive topic. The court will next attempt to divide the property fairly and reasonably after determining whether or not there is a committed personal connection.

Property division in a CIR does not necessarily lead to a 50/50 divide, just like in a married couple. The court’s main objective is to make sure that both parties are left in a fair financial situation after the partnership ends, above everything else.

If a couple was in a committed intimate relationship at the time of their separation, and they couldn’t reach an amicable agreement, the couple is legally separated. In that case, Washington state courts will make the following decisions:


The “just and equitable distribution of property” shall govern ownership rights and each party’s interests. Like a marriage, property obtained during a relationship will be regarded as jointly owned or community property. Debts, assets, and property that were acquired and maintained separately would not be split up.


When a CIR ends, Washington courts will decide child custody, child support, and parenting time, but not support or alimony payments to a partner.

Rights upon one partner’s death. The Washington Supreme Court has ruled that a survivor of a CIR does not inherit in the absence of a will, unlike a spouse.

Create a Strategy

It is advisable to get your own safeguards if you intend to stay single, regardless of whether you meet the requirements to be in a CIR. Drafting a cohabitation agreement is advised by many lawyers in order to lay out terms for managing your relationship’s finances, each partner’s interest in the other’s income and property, and how your debt and assets will be divided in the event of a breakup.

Planning for old age, infirmity, and death is also essential because Washington law regarding nonmarital relationships is, at best, hazy. A number of important documents are suggested:

Will. If you die without a will, your spouse, kids, parents, siblings, or other closest blood relatives would inherit your possessions, according to Washington law. A CIR partner will not be treated as your spouse; however, a registered domestic partner will. If you have minor children, you can name in your will the person you would like to take care of them after you pass away.

Lasting Durable Power of Attorney. In the event of your incapacity, this document will provide your spouse access to your financial accounts and enable them to handle bill payments.

Advance Directive and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. This gives your partner the authority to make decisions about your health care and conveys your wishes in the event that you become incapacitated.

Beneficiary Assignments. Whether or not you have a will, naming a beneficiary on retirement accounts, insurance, and other assets allows these things to go to the designated individual without going through probate.

The best method to safeguard your shared interests in an unmarried cohabiting relationship is to talk to a knowledgeable family law attorney about these legal dangers and protections.


What Is the Duration of Cohabitation Required in Washington for a Common Law Marriage?

Washington State courts will take into account some elements to decide if a relationship is eligible, such as Duration and exclusivity of the partnership (often lasting two years or more) and Whether the cohabitation was ongoing.

In Washington State, Are There Any Rights for Unmarried Couples?

In Washington, spouses in qualifying committed intimate relationships are entitled to some marital rights and obligations, such as the ability to enter into contracts with one another. and the responsibility to provide for their children (this applies to all parents, married or not)

Is It Permissible to Marry Under Common Law in Washington, DC?

This is so because D.C. is one of the few states in the United States that permits “common law” or non-traditional marriages. Marriage can be legally obtained without a marriage license or wedding planning if the couple acts as married.


Washington does not recognize common law marriage, which grants marriage rights without a ceremony or vow exchange. Living together but not legally married couples are granted certain safeguards under a special category called “committed intimate relationships.”

If one partner is over 62, Washington also permits registered domestic partnerships, which grant registered partners all state-based marital benefits.

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