Committed Intimate Relationships

 Committed Intimate Relationships

In today's world, a family can take many different forms. For example, couples may live together for many years without being married. They may have children, step-children, and/or children with half-siblings, all or some of whom may live with the couple or other family members. They may share bank accounts, buy homes, and build companies together. They may take out loans or share debts. And they may choose to leave all of their worldly possessions to their partner when they pass away. In short, the may do all the same things as married couples — only without the traditional legal protections of marriage.

An equity relationship (a.k.a. "committed intimate relationship" or "meretricious relationship") is a "stable, marital-like relationship where both parties cohabit with knowledge that a lawful marriage between them does not exist." See In re Meretricious Relationship of Long and Fregeau. See also Connell v. Francisco and In re Marriage of Lindsey.

Courts and legislatures recognize that such relationships are the norm and are more prevalent than ever before, and that there is a practical need for rules governing such relationships. When such couples end their relationships, they must divide their assets and debts and create parenting plans and child support schedules just the same as married couples. Courts refer to such relationships as "Committed Intimate Relationships." And they have created rules for Committed Intimate Relationships that, although they do not provide the same legal protections as marriage, are similar to the rules governing married couples.

Equitable claims are not dependent on the "legality" of the relationship between the parties, nor are they limited by the gender or sexual orientation of the parties. See Vasquez v. Hawthorne.

Relevant factors establishing an equity relationship include continuous cohabitation, relationship duration, relationship purpose, pooling of resources and services for joint projects, and the parties' intent.

Property Distribution

Once the court finds an equity relationship, all property the parties acquired through their efforts during the relationship is before the court for distribution. See In re Marriage of LindemannThe court must examine the relationship and property accumulation and make a just and equitable division of the property. The court may characterize property as "separate" and "community" by analogy to marital property. See Connell; see RCW 26.16.030.

Unlike a marriage, at the end of an equity relationship, only the issue of community property is before the court. The court may not dispose of the parties' separate property. The presumption is that any increase in value of separate property is likewise separate in nature. However, "if the court is persuaded by direct and positive evidence that the increase in value of separate property is attributable to community labor or funds, the community may be equitably entitled to reimbursement for the contributions that caused the increase in value." See In re Marriage of LindemannAdditionally, the labor of each party during a committed intimate relationship may be community labor.

Unlike spouses, cohabitants are not entitled to maintenance—there is no duty to maintain the other person. There is also no statute authorizing the court to grant attorney fees to either of the cohabitants in a proceeding to resolve their property rights.

Child Support and Parenting Plans

If the cohabitants have children together, the court will provide for:

  • Determination of parents
  • Adoption of a parenting plan
  • Entry of an order of child support

Tax Considerations

Cohabitants are not spouses and the termination of their relationship does not receive the same tax treatment as that afforded to divorcing spouses. Unless all of the property being divided between the cohabitants is in both of their names, a transfer of property to one may be considered a taxable event as a sale or exchange.

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