Unmarried Couples & Washington Family Law
Making the decision to end a long-term relationship is never easy, regardless
of your marital status. Over the years, unmarried couples have begun to
encounter many of the same legal issues experienced by divorcing married
couples. Today, various laws and legal techniques exist to address these
issues for both heterosexual and same-sex unmarried couples.
At McKinley Irvin, our team of family lawyers is prepared to help unmarried
couples in Seattle and throughout Washington deal with the following legal matters:
Committed Intimate Relationships
Unmarried couples cannot become "common law married" in Washington
State, which means that the Washington State legislature has not developed
any statutory law addressing the division of property at the end of a
relationship involving an unmarried couple. As a result, the Washington
courts have developed case law addressing the division of property when
an unmarried couple ends their relationship. This line of cases refers
to these unique marriage-like relationships as "committed intimate
relationships" (formerly "meretricious relationships").
This law applies to property acquired during the course of the couple's
relationship and may be used by both same-sex and heterosexual unmarried couples.
Paternity or Parentage Cases
Washington law delineates parentage and paternity guidelines in "the
parentage statute," RCW 26.26. This law typically applies to unmarried,
heterosexual couples who have a child but may also apply to same-sex couples
who, for example, have a child through assisted reproductive therapy or
The parentage statutes may be used to establish a "parenting plan"
for a child whose parents are unmarried. The parentage statutes also provide
methods of establishing parentage for parents who were not married at
the time of their child's birth.
The courts in Washington may also apply the common law (court established)
of de facto parentage, which provides a means for someone who has fulfilled
a parental role to a child (without a biological or adoptive relationship
to the child) to establish a parental relationship. The de facto parentage
laws may benefit the LGBT community because both members of a same-sex
couple cannot be the biological parent of any children born to either
of them, and the second person filling the parental role may not always
establish a recognized legal relationship with the child through
The Washington State legislature created "domestic partnerships"
in 2007 to grant relationship rights and responsibilities to same-sex
couples. The statute also includes a provision to protect couples where
at least one partner is more than 62 years old, regardless of the sex
of either member of the partnership.
Older couples may choose to refrain from marriage for a variety of reasons.
Some couples want to avoid losing pension benefits from a previous marriage
while having access to certain rights for their new partner. If at least
one party is over age 62, the couple may register as a domestic partnership.
Once the couple enters a partnership, they are bound by the same responsibilities
and privileges as a married couple. If the relationship ends, the couple
must file to dissolve their domestic partnership and divide their property
and debt through the domestic partnership
Same-sex couples can enter legal marriage relationships in Washington State
as of December 6, 2012. According to the law, these couples are no longer
allowed to enter domestic partnerships unless one party of the relationship
is at least 62 years old. Same-sex couples who entered a domestic partnership
before December 6, 2012 can choose to enter a marriage or wait until June
30, 2014 when their partnership will automatically convert to marriage.
Family Law Attorney in Washington
If you are looking for a skilled family lawyer in Washington, we encourage
you to speak with a member of the legal team at McKinley Irvin. Our lawyers
are highly qualified, capable, and have more than two decades of experience
helping thousands of clients throughout Seattle and across the state.
Learn more about your legal options with our premier Washington family
law firm when you contact our office.