Unmarried couples living together: What are your legal rights?

In place of common law marriage, Washington recognizes committed intimate relationships (also known as meretricious relationships). These are relationships that mimic a marriage and give you legal rights without being married. If you and your partner have been together intimately for several years, have lived in the same residence during that time, and possibly have children together, an estate plan, or joint purchases, bank accounts or debt, then you have a good argument that you meet the requirements of a committed intimate relationship in Washington State.

Legal rights with a marriage-like relationship

If your long-term relationship qualifies as an intimate committed relationship according to the court, then you have legal rights similar to a person who is married. This means that you may be able to claim community property acquired during the relationship if you and your partner separate. In Washington, property and debt is divided equitably so you may receive less or more than half of the community property, depending on your situation.

If you have children, you can also ask the court to determine and agreement on child custody and a parenting plan, and even seek child support.

The court applies the same guidelines as it would in a regular divorce. This means you can ask for the home, receive a portion of any retirement plans and negotiate a settlement that provides you with the opportunity to move forward in your life with some financial security. You also may be able to ask for support similar to spousal support if you struggle with a health condition or you lack education and training to find suitable employment.

Unlike a traditional divorce, however, ending a committed intimate relationship does not grant either party the right to request alimony (spousal maintenance).

Legal rights with a non-qualifying relationship

Your legal rights become more limited if the court rules that your relationship does not meet the requirements for a marriage-like situation. In this case, it becomes a matter of whether your name is on the property you are asking to retain. This means if you are driving a vehicle that belongs to your ex, your ex has the legal right to reclaim it.

Assets that are under both your name and your ex’s are usually subjected to a half and half division. This can make things a bit tricky when it involves debt. The best option is to remove your name from the credit cards or any accounts once it is decided that you and your partner are going your separate ways. Debt that has only your name on it is considered yours and legally you are responsible for it.


If you are in a long-term relationship that is ending and are worried about your rights, you may want to discuss your situation with a family law attorney with experience in these matters before a split actually occurs. They can advise you on how best to protect your property and your relationship with your children.

Categories: Unmarried Couples
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