For a variety of reasons, some people choose to be in a long-term committed relationship instead of getting married. When these relationships end, many people feel like they are going through a divorce. As you can imagine, after years in a committed relationship there is often co-ownership of real and personal property, and debt associated with the property. Although in many ways these long-term relationships can be like a marriage, the dissolution process is not available to the couple. This can leave many people feeling without resources to resolve the property issues associated with the end of their relationship.
Fortunately for some, while common-law marriages may not be formed under Washington law, in some circumstances unmarried couples that are able to show that they are in a committed intimate relationship may ask the courts to help them divide property and debt. To qualify as a committed intimate relationship the parties must show that they were in a marital-like relationship. To determine whether the relationship was marital-like the courts will review several factors (ex. pooling of resources, continuous cohabitation, and duration of relationship). Property acquired during a committed intimate relationship is subject to equitable division by the court.
These cases are not without their challenges, and should only be brought when the relationship is likely to qualify as a committed intimate relationship. Also, it is important to note that not all the remedies available to divorcing parties are available to parties to a committed intimate relationship. For example, parties ending a committed intimate relationship will not be awarded spousal maintenance (often called alimony).