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.


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