Meretricious Relationships

 

What is a committed intimate relationship?  There is no common law marriage in Washington State. That was abolished years ago.  However, the courts do recognize that when people live together, they may accumulate property together, and that can be divided.  This used to be called a “meretricious” relationship; now the courts call it a “committed intimate relationship”. Same thing, different name.

There are a number of different factors that the courts use when deciding if a meretricious relationship – as opposed to a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship – exists. Among them: did you hold yourself out as a couple: Did either of you date others while you were together? Were you registered domestic partners? Were you on each other’s bank or credit card accounts? Did you buy property together? Were you in each other’s wills? 

Each case is different. But generally, you have to have several things: you have to have lived together for several years. Less than 2-3 years, and the courts will probably find you don’t have a meretricious relationship. You have to have acted like a married couple: you have to have joint accounts, etc.
Contested CIR (committed intimate relationship) cases are rare (compared to divorces). That’s because:

  • There is no way to get attorney fees from the other side. You will have to pay your own attorney fees.
  • There is no spousal support. The only thing a court will do is divide the assets and liabilities.
  • The cases can take a long time.  In King County, it’s about 18 months from filing the case to getting to trial.

But – if you think you have one, or if you need to get advice on property, call me! 
FAQ: Meretricious Relationships

  • How long do we have to be together?  There is no statutory length of time. But no court has held a meretricious relationship exists if it’s less than three years old. And I have had courts rule that a CIR did not exist in longer term relationships, depending on the facts.
  • Can I (she) get attorney fees from the other side?  No.
  • Can we have a meretricious relationship if one of us is still married? No. You can’t have a stable, marital-like relationship if he or she already has a spouse. You cannot hold yourself out as being married to someone who is still married to someone else.

Case Law:

  • Attorney fees cannot be awarded in a meretricious relationship case under RCW 26.09.140 because the statute is limited to marriages.

Foster v. Thilges, 61 Wn. App. 880, 887, 812 P.2d 523 (1991);
Western Community Bank v. Helmer, 48 Wn. App. 694, 699, 740 P.2d 359 (1987)

  • The five factors relevant in determining whether a meretricious relationship exists, “continuous cohabitation, duration of the relationship, purpose of the relationship, pooling of resources and services for joint projects, and the intent of the parties,” are neither exclusive nor hypertechnical.
  •  

Pennington v. Pennington, 142 Wn.2d 592, 601, 14 P.3d 764 (2000);
Connell v. Francisco, 127 Wn.2d 339, 346, 898 P.2d 831 (1995)

  • Property acquired during a meretricious relationship is subject to equitable division and, since Lindsey, the court may apply the principles of community property “by analogy.”

 

Kenneth W. Weber, 20 Washington Practice, Family and Community Property Law, §57 (1997)
Pennington v. Pennington, 142 Wn.2d 592, 14 P.3d 764 (2000);
Koher v. Morgan, 93 Wn. App. 398, 968 P.2d 920 (1998), review denied, 137 Wn.2d 1035 (1999).

  • If no meretricious relationship is established and the parties are both on the title to real property, they may be tenants in common. If so, the presumption that tenants in common hold property on a 50/50 basis can be rebutted by showing that the parties did not contribute equally to the purchase price. Absent evidence that a gift was intended by the party who contributed more, tenants in common hold the property in proportion to their contributions to the purchase price.

Cummings v. Anderson, 94 Wn.2d 135, 614 P.2d 1283 (1980)

  • “We conclude that the equitable doctrine of CIR is subject to a three-year statute of limitations. A party must sue to establish that the relationship existed within three years of the end of the relationship.”

In re Matter of Kelley, 170 Wn. App. 722, 737, __ P.3d __ (2012)