Law Office of John S. Palmer Attorney at Law

(425) 455-5513

“Defunct” relationships

Posted Tuesday, November 27, 2012 by John S. Palmer

The date a relationship ends can be an important question bearing on how a court will divide property. While assets acquired during a marriage or registered domestic partnership are presumed to be community property, RCW 26.16.140 states that when spouses or domestic partners “are living separate and apart, their respective earnings and accumulations shall be the separate property of each.”

The Washington Supreme Court has interpreted this “living separate and apart” statute to require proof that a marriage is “defunct” before a court may characterize property acquired by one spouse as his or her separate property.However, the court has also said that a marriage or domestic partnership will only be considered “defunct” when both parties no longer desire to continue the relationship. This gives a spouse or domestic partner who does not want the relationship to end a great deal of power over the other party with regard to when the relationship will be considered “defunct” for purposes of applying the “living separate and apart” statute.

In contrast, the Court of Appeals recently held that, for purposes of the “committed intimate relationship” doctrine, one party can unilaterally end the relationship. This doctrine, formerly known as the “meretricious relationship” doctrine, was adopted by Washington’s courts to resolve property distribution issues that arise when unmarried people separate after living in a marital-like relationship and acquiring what would have been community property had they been married. The property acquired during a committed intimate relationship is treated as equivalent to community property and is subject to equitable division between the parties after the relationship ends.In a published opinion released in September, (In re Parentage of GWF and AWF) Division 1 of the Washington Court of Appeals noted that a committed intimate relationship is not the same as marriage and in general, the laws governing the division of marital property, including the “living separate and apart” statute, do not apply to such relationships.

Rather, the court noted that one of the factors used to determine if a committed intimate relationship exists is the “intent of the parties.” The court reasoned that if mutual intent is required to form the relationship, mutual intent is required to maintain it. Therefore, if one party changes his or her mind and “expresses the unequivocal intent to end the relationship, the relationship ends.”

If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment, please call us at (425) 455-5513, toll free at (877) 455-5513, or

Local: (425) 455-5513
Toll Free: (877) 455-5513
Fax: (425) 455-5546
Law Office of John S. Palmer11911 NE 1st St, Ste. B204,Bellevue, WA 98005-3056