A recent article published on Huffington Post’s Divorce section describes a study published in 2012. The study found that living together prior to marriage is no longer a strong indicator of whether a couple will stay married or not. This is welcome news for many couples worried about their marital futures. However, there are other potential ramifications for parties living together prior to marriage that one might want to be aware of. As we’ve discussed previously on this blog, in Washington State, under certain circumstances, people who live together may be deemed partners in a committed intimate relationship, and thus may have access to the courts to divide debts and assets should their relationship end.
This issue can come up in a committed relationship that does not end in marriage, but instead ends with a break-up or death of one partner. It can come up in same-sex and different-sex relationships. After a long relationship many assets and debts have often been acquired. If a partner can prove that a committed intimate relationship existed, they can ask the courts help to equitably divide the property and debts acquired during that relationship. Many parties are surprised that they can end up in what feels like divorce court without ever getting married!
More relevant to the subject at hand, this issue comes up frequently at the time of divorce. Many divorcing spouses think that they will only have to divide assets and debts dating back to the inception of the marriage, but come to find out that they may have to divide assets and debts that were incurred years prior to their walk down the aisle. What assets become community-like depends on whether the couple lived in a relationship that qualifies as a committed intimate relationship prior to marriage. If they did not, the court will only characterize debts and assets acquired during marriage as community (or community-like).