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 surrogacy.
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 adoption.
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 divorce process.
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.