When an unmarried couple—even if they have been living together—decides to split up, the courts generally do not get involved, even when there is a minor dispute over property. However, if it was a long-term relationship and the couple meets certain criteria, the court may decide that the couple has similar, rights as a married couple seeking a dissolution or divorce.
Legal Standards for a Committed Intimate Relationship
In Washington, the courts have extended many protections to couples who have accumulated “community property” during a “marriage-like” relationship. This is often referred to as a “Committed Intimate Relationship” (CIR). Whether a court would determine that a CIR has been formed depends on various facts and factors, including the following:
- Length of the relationship. The court does not specify a minimum amount of time, but if you have not been living together and sharing resources for at least several years, your relationship will probably not qualify as a CIR.
- Continuity of cohabitation. The court will want to see that the couple has lived together continuously throughout the relationship. Moving in and out repeatedly or living far apart from each other will call the relationship into question.
- Intent of the parties. The court will look for evidence that the couple presented themselves as a couple, referred to each other in permanent terms, and otherwise fostered a marriage-like relationship.
- Pooling resources. A key factor will be whether the couple shared bank accounts, jointly owned property, shared credit cards, supported each other financially, and other indications of financial commitment.
Whether the couple has children together or not is not necessarily considered proof of a CIR, since you can share children without living together or sharing property and other resources.