What is a meretricious relationship? 22

The Line Between Marriage and Cohabitation in Washington State

A meretricious relationship is a term created by the Washington State legislature to define cohabitations that are marital in nature but not on paper. There are several factors that the court will consider when determining whether or not a relationship meets the meretricious definition. These include:

  • The length of the relationship
  • The time the parties have cohabitated continuously
  • The nature of the relationship
  • The extent to which funds and assets have been commingled
  • The intent of the parties in question

If the court finds that a relationship meets the meretricious definition, then the “relationship property” will be evaluated and divided in an equitable distribution. Relationship property can include your primary residence, automobiles, bank accounts and other assets, both real and intangible.

It should also be noted that the Washington Supreme Court held that the meretricious relationship doctrine also applies to same-sex couples. This does not give any relationship the same rights as a legal marriage. It merely provides the court system with a legal way to approach the division of property in the break-up of a non-married relationship meeting the appropriate factors.

If you and your partner are cohabitating, you may want to consider drafting a cohabitation agreement to define joint property and separate property as well as provide a written agreement regarding property distribution in the event that the two of you split up.


  • Jimmie

    My 86 year old father is being divorced by his 91 year old wife. They lived together for 16 years, at which time my dad was still married to my mom. They married after my mom died and were married for 7 years. Would the state of Washington consider the 16 years they lived together before marriage as a “marital relationship” even though my dad was still married to my mom during those years?

  • Rua

    The court could consider them to have been in what they call a “meretricious relationship” there is a case in washington where a man was still married to another women when he left a 12 year relationship and that couple was found to have been in a “meretrious relationship” Foster v. Thilges, 61 Wn.App. 880 take a look at that case it might.

  • Julie Love

    My “husband” of 8.5 years died in March 2010 due to auto accident. Left behind is me “his wife” and 3 minor children. I am having some issues with his parents thinking I am not entitled to anything we have together and there is a case pending due to the accident that I am not entitled to because we were never “legally married”. Everyone considered us to be a couple and married. We have 3 children together as well. Can anyone help me find out a way to get the Washington State Courts to recognize our relationship as a meretricious relationship, so that I too may be entitled to his things and the court case? Thank you…..

  • Dona

    According to my divorce decree, I will lose my share of the retirement split if I remarry. Can I live with my intimate partner without marrying him and not be considered married? Will having a commitment ceremony be ok? We do plan to have a joint acct for household expenses, buy a home as tenets in common, but will be keeping our other assets seperated.

  • Raymond

    Armed with a restraining order, my brother was evicted by the sheriff, from the home he shared for 12 years with his girlfriend who owns the property.They have two small children. He was given 15 minutes to gather all he could. Now five months later, he still has not been allowed to remove his property which consists of an auto and tire repair shop that was in the garage. Is she required to keep his property safe and secure until the restraining order expires? He improved her property the years they lived together and invested his own money in additions he built for her. They had a joint checking account part of the time and she claimed him as a dependant on her income tax for several years. Can this be considered a meretricious relationship?

  • kep2339

    If my wife has not changed her last name after being married, is it fraud if someone writes a check to us addressing us as ex. (steve and marry doe) when i deposit the check in my account?

  • jane

    I have lived with my fiancee for 13 years. We have split everything down the middle. He bought a house after promising he would buy me one someday. It’s in his name due to my credit. When we almost broke up he said it’s his house. He takes my money out of my bank acct. deposits all of it in his. Pays all the bills. Has done this 10 years now.
    Am I entitled to this house since I pay 1/2 the morgage say in 10 more years? Due to meretricious relationship.

  • 17

    Ok so I’m 17, my parents are splitting up and my question is, what legal rights does my mom have? We’re in Colorado so I don’t know if the laws change but my dad owned his own buisiness for about 15 years, did well, employed my mom their and bought everything, house, cars, the whole shebang, in his name. I would assume that due to them living together for 25 or so years this would be considered a metricious relationship, however for the past few years my dad has been the sole supporter of us (me, my mom, himself and my 3 younger sisters and younger brother) it may just me being prejudiced I don’t think/know that my mom has any rights to the things owned by my dad, can someone please help?

  • Debby

    I have lived with my partner for over 7+ years. I found “inappropriate” text messages on his phone and kicked him out. He has paid me between $1500-$2500 a month for the past 7 years. This did not cover many expenses which came out of my pocket. I kept a running list of what he didn’t cover; it’s over $50k over the 7 years. He bought a business 4 years ago for $1.6 million Dollars (I found the business & am a Director on the Board). WHat am I entitled to? He wants his “man cave furniture” TV, Chair, Desk; I gave him my furniture for his business 5 years ago & that room would be empty & I would have to refurnish and spend more money. He has NEVER supported me; DID not pay the bills or even KNOW what they costs. He expected me to run my business AND the home with no compensation except the check he gave me at the start of each month. What do I do?

    • lawyer1

      That is right, Debby, you are basicallly a gold digger. Not only did you get $2500/month from him- what did you give him in all those years ? – Nothing right? if you want more now.. it means you are a gold digger.

  • Droad

    Is 2 years of co-habitation considered a meretricious relationship? My ex boyfriend & i bought a house using both our names but I paid for everything, the down payment, ect. he lived there and paid 1/2 the mortgage for only 6 months, and volunatarily moved out. The only reason his name was on the loan was because my ex-husband had not refinanced a $120,000 boat out of my name and compromised my credit. I continue to reside in the house & have made all payments on time. When we bought the house he knew why I couldnt get it myself, and when we split up I told him I would refinance it when my ex-husband took my name off the boat (which has not yet occurred after 6 years). We also owned a business together but all the debt was in my name. He left me almost bankrupt, for which ive just now began to recover. Can he make me refinance the house right now, when I2 differnt attorneys told me there is nothing I can do to make my ex-husband refinance his bouat out of my name? I want to refinance the house but IF i could get a loan I would have to pay an outrageous interest rate and a new down payment.

  • Olivia

    I want to go to live with my boyfriend in Montana, but not get married. He wants to get married alone, through the bible. I have more money than he does. We want to purchase a truck together. I understand that if we purchase anything in both names, everything, community property is split in half, even bank accounts or retired accounts. Does anyone know any information about this?

  • shaq

    hi my girlfriend is sheting on me with other man i did catsh her she did not like that we been together for 12 yr we both 3 familly housse but it’s her name i did put it a lot of money….i did help her true her school and every thing i was thinking that she is the one….i guess i was wrong….any ways she put all my cloth in the bassment and she cahnge the locks…..question time can she do that?……..plus is there any possible reason for me to get one of the appartememt in the housse

  • Burned

    I have been living with my boyfriend nearly 4 years now. He has decided out of the blue that he want’s me to move out. He owns the house which is fine he can have it. I was giving him checks each payday for bills and I do buy all the groceries along with other household items you need to live ie laundry, bathroom, kids clothes (his, not mine) I switched to giving him cash each payday so that his ex wouldn’t ding him for more support. It does show the same withdrawal every month for the same amount. My question is I guess am I entitled to at least him giving me money to move out? Have we been together long enough for this to be considered meretricious? And if he wants me to move out how long do I have to actually leave the premise?

  • kathy

    I have been living with my boyfriend for over 13 years now. We bought two houses together. The house we live in with my two adult children is upside down and he does not want to keep helping to pay mortgage payments anymore. He wants to leave the relationship. I am from a foreign country and in my 50’s. It will be very difficult to make $2000 mortage payments. I will be just left with debt (no retirement security or anything). I have savings accounts and a small condo that I bought while we are together with me working two jobs and saving all my money. I think it is unfair that I have to be kicked out of the house (so does my children) just because he wants to end the relationship. Is there any way to be treated as we are married so I can be protected financially???

  • Vicky

    My friend is ending what has been determined by the courts as a Meretricious Relationship. Negotiations of dividing up assets is still ongoing and no paperwork has been finalized by a judge. In the meantime, he has gotten married and purchased a home with his new bride. If a Meretricious Relationship is considered almost like being married, could he not get in trouble for having 2 wives? And is he not saying “Take it, its all yours”

  • survivor

    The love of my life passed away just over a yr ago. Our story begins w/a 6 mo love affair the winter of ’70-’71. I became pregnant; single-parented our son. Twelve years later he went on to marry, have two daughters, then divorce. In ’91 he met our son and we rekindled our romance. In ’96 I relocated from Endicott, Wa to Marysville,Wa and have lived w/him, nonstop, ever since. Now it appears as though I have no rights. Since he died w/out a will everything legally goes to the “kids”(41, 29, 27 yrs). The only thing purchased in both our names is a Worldmark time-share(’99) that was transferred to me @ the time of his death. I am purchasing a home in Endicott(rental), but this house & all of the bills remained in his name, despite the fact that we shared the load. Is there any way that this will be deemed a Quasai Communal Meretricious Relationship and that I could be rewarded anything from the estate?

  • InterestedParty

    Can anyone direct me to state caselaw or statute that addresses what happens if someone who was divorced has entered into a meritricious relationship with another man and the divorce decree provides that spousal maitenance will cease in the event she remarries? Is a meritricious relationship enough to cancel her spousal maitennace?

    • Vicky

      First off, I am not a lawyer. Secondly, if you want the checks to keep coming, don’t get married. I am close friends with a woman who is separating from her Boyfriend of 25 years and has had their relationship deemed Meretricious when she hired a lawyer to serve him papers. Only the courts can determine if you are in a Meretricious Relationship. And the only time it will get determined a Meretricious Relationship is when you and your new spouse split up and have to hire lawyers. You do not enter into a “Meretricious Relationship”, you enter into a “Relationship” As long as there is no Marriage Certificate in both your names filed with the courthouse, those checks should keep on coming.

  • Charles

    Is there a time limit per Washington law that says you are now in a Meretricious Relationship, like if I want to add my girlfriend to my insurance

  • Erin

    Who can she contact about what to do about this matter and having no place to live and no money. Her number is (585)346-0753. is there a phone number she can call so i can let her know.