Washington Appeals Court Affirms Finding of Committed Intimate Relationship

Washington family law recognizes Committed Intimate Relationships (“CIRs”), which are stable relationships, similar to a marriage, in which the parties live together knowing that they are not lawfully married.  CIRs have also been referred to as “meretricious relationships.” Washington courts consider five factors to determine if a CIR exists: whether the parties have continuously cohabitated, the length of the relation, the relationship’s purpose, whether the parties pooled their resources and services, and the parties’ intent.  If the court determines there is a CIR, it then must determine the parties’ interest in the property acquired during the CIR and distribute the property in a just and equitable manner.  Connell v. Francisco.

A man recently challenged a court’s finding of a CIR and division of property. The parties were in a romantic relationship from 2008 to September 2020, according to the appeals court’s unpublished opinion.  They purchased a home and lived together from December 2012 until they broke up.  The female partner made the down payment on the home, but they otherwise paid bills equally.  They had two children.

The female partner alleged the male partner committed domestic violence.  She petitioned for division of the property of a CIR.  She separately petitioned to establish parentage of the children and sought a parenting plan and dissolution of the CIR.

Trial for both matters was held on the same day, but the male partner did not appear.  The trials proceeded without him.  The trial court informed the parties the judge had been acquainted with the female partner’s mother, but indicated recusal was likely not required. The female partner and the  guardian ad litem testified.  The court admitted about 21 exhibits.

In its final order, the court found the female partner had established the existence of a CIR divided the assets about evenly.  It awarded the female partner the house and the male partner an equitable share of about$73,000.

The male partner appealed, arguing the trial court erred in characterizing the parties’ relationship as a CIR.  He argued there was not sufficient evidence to support the court’s finding.  The appeals court, however, concluded all five factors weighed in favor of finding a CIR.  The appeals court further noted that the male partner did not argue against the findings with specificity.

The male partner also argued there were still genuine issues of material fact regarding ownership of the property.  The appeals court noted he cited information that could not be considered because it was not in the record.  Additionally, he did not challenge findings with specificity. The appeals court concluded there was sufficient evidence in the record to support the court’s finding of a CIR.

The court then had to determine the parties’ interest in the property and distribute it justly and equitably.

The trial court in this case had heard testimony and reviewed other evidence describing the property that had been acquired.  The female partner testified she made the down payment and the parties had otherwise generally equally split the bills.  The court awarded the house to the female partner and found the male partner had about an $89,000 equitable share.  The court reduced that share because of child care expenses and outstanding child support, and allocated him $73,622.  The court put the rest of those funds in a trust for future child support and childcare.

The male partner argued the trial court erred in “impounding” his interest in the property to pay the child support.  The appeals court, however, determined there was sufficient substantial evidence to support a finding the allocation was just and equitable.

The male partner argued the trial judge was biased and that this bias contributed to the erroneous rulings.  The trial judge acknowledged meeting the female partner’s mother as a lawyer when she was working at a bank.  The trial judge also acknowledged having “chatted with her a couple of times at the restaurant,” but clarified there was no personal connection beyond that.

There is a presumption that courts act properly and without bias.  When a litigant alleges bias on the part of a judge, they must provide proof of actual or perceived bias.  The appeals court noted the male partner had not submitted any proof of actual or perceived bias.  He failed to show that a reasonable person would reasonably question the judge’s impartiality based on a couple of casual conversation with a litigant’s mother.

The male partner also argued the trial court abused its discretion when in “intermingling” the parenting plan action with the CIR finding.  The appeals court pointed out that the docket in the record before it did not show there were two separate actions.  Although the appeals court did not have to search the record to find the relevant information, it chose to consider the issue because the court had referenced different cause numbers for the paternity action and the CIR action.  When the court asked if it was correct, the female partner’s attorney replied that it was.

Even assuming there were two separate actions that were consolidated by the trial court, the appeals court concluded there was no abuse of discretion, especially in light of the “overlap” between the cases.  Pursuant to CR 42(a), a court has the discretion to consolidate actions with a common legal or factual question.  The appeals court concluded their were common questions of law and fact in the two cases because the determination of whether there was a CIR would affect the division of the property and the parenting of the children.  The appeals court concluded the consolidation “avoid[ed] unnecessary costs or delay.”  The appeals court held the trial court did not abuse its discretion in consolidating the cases.

The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s order.

If your relationship is ending and you believe it may qualify as a CIR, you should consult with a knowledgeable Washington family law attorney.  Contact Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 to set up a consultation.


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