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Committed Intimate Relationships in Washington Divorce Cases

Washington, unlike some states, recognizes “committed intimate relationships.” Courts may consider a number of factors, including the parties’ intent, the length and purpose of the relationship, whether the parties continuously lived together, and whether the parties pooled their resources.  When a couple acquires property during a committed intimate relationship, it is presumed to be community property.  The date a committed intimate relationship began can therefore be very significant in a property distribution during a Washington divorce.  A husband recently challenged a court’s finding he and the wife were in a committed intimate relationship when a house was purchased.

The parties started dating in 2008 and the wife moved in with the husband in April 2009. The husband paid the rent and bills, and the wife helped with food and other things.  She also had furniture and two vehicles.  They maintained separate finances.

They bought a house together in March 2010.  The wife said they saved money because she knew the builder and her husband helped them. She testified they decided to put the title and loan in the husband’s name because they weren’t married yet.  She said the husband told her they would refinance after they got married.  The husband paid the mortgage, and the wife said he “was adamant that [the mortgage payments] come from his sole, own checking account.”

The appeals court noted the wife had arranged for renovations, including tile, paint, and a patio.  The wife testified that she paid for at least half of them, or that she exchanged hairstyling services for them.  She also testified that she paid the other bills, including utilities and homeowners’ association dues.

The parties got married in January 2011.  The wife put most of the wedding expenses on her credit cards.

They had a daughter in April 2013.  The wife took several months for maternity leave and went back to work one day a week.  She testified that she did the child care, cooking, cleaning, and yard work. She was adding to her credit card debt to pay for household expenses due to her low income.  The husband then started paying the utilities, but she kept paying for household items and some daycare.  She started a new job working 20 hours per week in January 2015.

The wife filed for divorce in December 2017.  She testified she had moved out in November and now lived in an apartment in a low-income complex.  She testified she could not work more because she would no longer qualify for low-income housing.

The trial court found the parties committed intimate relationship started when the wife moved in with the husband.  That was therefore the date when they started incurring community debt and acquiring community property.  The trial court found the house was community property and awarded the wife half of its equity. The court also found all of the debt, except two vehicle loans, was community debt and ordered the husband to pay the wife $2,306.

The husband appealed, arguing the trial court erred in finding they had been in a committed intimate relationship at the time the home was purchased.  He did not argue the court erred in making any specific findings of fact, but instead argued that the findings were insufficient to support the conclusion.

The trial court had found the parties had been “in an exclusive relationship” since the wife moved in with the husband.  The court found they shared expenses and pooled resources. The court found they intended to have a home and be a family. The appeals court found that the unchallenged findings sufficiently established the existence of a committed intimate relationship.

The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

This case illustrates the significance of a committed intimate relationship and when it began.  If you are facing divorce, an experienced Washington divorce attorney can help you identify if and when you may have begun a committed intimate relationship with your spouse.  Call (206) 622-6562 to schedule a consultation with Blair & Kim, PLLC.

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