21 Jun 3 Legal Ramifications of Choosing to Remain Unmarried
Couples who have been together for years without getting married may approach the idea of marriage with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. That’s fine, but both partners in the arrangement should understand the legal ramifications of choosing to remain unmarried.
Committed Intimate Relationship
Washington State doesn’t recognize common law marriages unless they were established in another state. However, attorneys who can help unmarried couples may still be knowns as “common law marriage attorneys.”
Such attorneys can help unmarried couples in Washington establish a committed intimate relationship (CIF) to gain some, but not all, of the rights the state affords married couples.
To prove a CIF, couples must show they’ve been together for several years, that the relationship has been continuous, and that they intend to form a union that is much like a marriage. This may include evidence that they have commingled and/or shared their finances.
If a Washington court finds you have a CIR, you and your partner will have more rights than a cohabiting couples who has not established a legally recognizable CIR, but not as many rights as a married couple.
1. Property and Debt
Property that a couple in a CIR acquires during their relationship will be regarded as community property. But as with married couples, in the event of a breakup, that property will not necessarily be divided equally.
Instead, the court will approve a settlement that it finds to be “just and equitable,” taking into consideration each partner’s financial situation.
Like property, liability for debt is divided between the partners if the relationship ends. Both partners may be liable for payments on joint credit card accounts, joint mortgages, and other debts they shared. Individual debts like student loans or separate credit cards may remain with the person whose name is on the card or loan.
2. Child Support
The court will enter an order establishing arrangements for child support for the parent awarded physical custody of any children. Couples in a CIF cannot request spousal support unless they have co-mingled funds and have had a steady relationship for at least 7 years
3. Health Care and Estate Planning
If one partner in a CIF dies without naming the other as their heir, the surviving partner may not be entitled to any inheritance. Both partners should make estate plans specifically naming the other as their heir.
Without a legal document conferring the right to make medical and financial decisions on behalf of each other in the event of incapacity, the healthy partner may find themselves excluded from end-of-life decisions and financial management for their loved one.
Unmarried couples should consult an experienced family law attorney like those at LaCoste Family Law for advice on the legal ramifications of remaining unmarried. LaCoste Family Law can prepare necessary documents to protect each partner’s rights and record their preferences regarding end-of-life decisions, financial responsibility, and last wills.