Why Cohabitation Agreement In Washington State Is A Good Idea

by ECL Writer
Cohabitation Agreement In Washington State

Love is a beautiful journey, and for many couples in Washington State, that journey often leads them to cohabitation before marriage. Sharing a home, responsibilities, and dreams with your partner can be an exhilarating experience, but it’s essential to remember that life isn’t always a fairy tale. Relationships can face challenges, and unexpected circumstances can arise, leading to legal complexities that can be hard to unravel without proper planning.

Enter the cohabitation agreement, a powerful tool for couples who choose to live together in Washington State. While it may not sound particularly romantic, it’s a smart and pragmatic way to protect your interests, maintain a harmonious relationship, and ensure a secure future for both you and your partner. In this article, Eastcoastlaws.com will explore why a cohabitation agreement is not only a good idea but a crucial step in your journey of love and partnership in the Evergreen State. We’ll break down the key reasons why you should consider creating one and how it can bring peace of mind and clarity to your relationship. So, let’s embark on this journey together to understand why a cohabitation agreement is a wise choice for couples in Washington State.

Cohabitation Versus Marriage

Common law marriages are not recognized in Washington State, although in some cases, the courts will acknowledge that unmarried spouses may have been in a “committed intimate relationship” (CIR). These were once referred to as “meretricious relationships,” and when a CIR is determined by the court to have occurred, the parties are granted certain rights. Furthermore, some privileges are comparable to those that apply to married couples.

The 2000 Washington Supreme Court case In Re Marriage of Pennington, which used factors like whether the couple had lived together continuously, how long the relationship had lasted, what it was for, and whether they had shared property for joint projects, was one of the earliest cases to define CIRs. Although there isn’t a set amount of time required, in general, a committed intimate relationship requires that the pair have been living together consistently for a sizable amount of time.

Cohabitation and marriage are quite similar in many ways, including the allocation or sharing of parental obligations, the acquisition of property during the relationship using joint funds or income, and the sharing of debt incurred during the relationship. But there are some significant distinctions between cohabitation and marriage.

Cohabitating partners do not enjoy the same tax advantages as married couples do, nor is there any obligation to assist the partner financially. Additionally, barring a legally binding cohabitation agreement that specifically states that one of the former partners is entitled to financial support, neither party is eligible for spousal support (maintenance) following the end of a cohabitation partnership. Additionally, instances involving committed romantic relationships are not eligible for attorney fee awards.

It is crucial to remember that marriage is a legal transaction as well. Marriage has the legal definition of a number of the spouses’ rights, including how to divide property, how to prepare an estate and other obligations. Separate property is a good illustration. All separate and common property is presented to the court for division during a divorce. Only assets accumulated during the relationship and as a result of shared money are subject to division between the parties by the court in a CIR action to divide assets.


Dissolving A Cohabitating Relationship Can Appear Similar To A Divorce

It might be difficult to contemplate the end of a relationship, but in the case of long-term unmarried couples, property split is crucial to take into account, particularly after a long-term partnership. Couples that live together might share money, buy a house together, and make investments together.

Cohabitation raises questions about how to divide assets and property, who is responsible for paying off debts, and how to decide on parenting and support for any children born during the partnership. A separate asset belonging to one person may be used to benefit the couple over time in a long-term cohabitation relationship so that it is no longer distinguishable as a separate asset. This is known as co-mingling. An illustration would be if one person had a home before the relationship and sold it to pay for improvements on a new home the couple shared.

It can be helpful to explicitly lay out the terms of your arrangement in a cohabitation agreement to best protect your interests and avoid a complicated and expensive case that ends up in court, especially at the beginning of the relationship, such as when you decide to move in together or when it becomes apparent that the relationship may be long-term. However, it’s critical to first comprehend what a cohabitation agreement is.

What Is A Cohabitation Agreement?

A cohabitation agreement is a written document that specifies the rules and costs associated with an unmarried couple living together in the same house. For each couple, the specifics of such an agreement will probably vary, but generally speaking, they cover expenses, how to divide property in the event of a separation or death, how to handle gifts and inheritances received during the relationship as well as property acquired prior to the relationship, and how to resolve disputes. Parenting and child support may come up if there are children involved, but the court will still make decisions on these matters in accordance with the law and what is best for the kids.

Unmarried partners are able to sign cohabitation contracts outlining privileges generally associated with marriage. Such agreements normally need to be in writing, and depending on the kind of property involved, they could also need to meet extra legal criteria. Oral agreements are troublesome at best since after a breakup, the parties might not agree on what was or wasn’t “agreed to” orally.

Married spouses have the power to make “implied” agreements, which define the terms of cohabitation without ever saying them out loud. A court looks at the cohabiting couple’s behavior to establish whether there is an implicit agreement. If there is no express agreement, the court will divide the property in a way that it deems fair and equitable.

Cohabiting couples should think about having an officially documented cohabitation agreement because it might be difficult to prove the existence of an implied or spoken cohabitation agreement. While legal bills have a cost, dividing a couple’s amassed wealth following separation is typically more expensive and complicated. Remember that there would be no CIR action if one of the parties passed away during the CIR.

Determining if a CIR existed, what the extent of shared property is, and how it should be divided are all parts of a CIR lawsuit. This won’t happen if someone passes away while the relationship is still in place because they were an essential component of the action. In that case, the couple’s estate planning is either in order or it isn’t.

Cohabitation agreements are recognized by the majority of states, including Washington state. Because a cohabitation agreement is, at its core, a contract, it must meet certain standards in order to be considered legally binding. Cohabitation agreements can be flexible because they are less scrutinized than prenuptial or postnuptial arrangements.

Cohabitation Agreement Vs. Prenuptial Agreements

Contrary to prenuptial agreements, cohabitation agreements set forth the property and financial terms of a couple’s shared living situation without the couple ever intending to wed. Prenuptial agreements describe how the couple will divide their assets and debt in the case of divorce before they actually get married. Unless specifically stated otherwise, a cohabitation agreement becomes void if a cohabiting couple gets married.

Wills And Unmarried Couples

Estate planning is advantageous for long-term cohabitating couples, just as it is for marriages. Whether you are married or not, when you live with your spouse, you also make important life decisions together. What you want to happen to your property after death is specified in your will. In the absence of a will, your assets will be distributed in accordance with Washington’s intestate succession laws. This means that if you pass away without having established legal heirs, your assets will either escheat to the state or transfer to your family members in a predetermined sequence.

According to Washington state statutory law, if you have been living with someone for a long time without getting married, you are not entitled to your partner’s assets upon their passing. Especially for families with non-traditional arrangements like those of unmarried couples, intestate rules might be challenging. Therefore, it would be smart to specify in your will how you want your assets distributed after death. Couples who live together but are not married need a will that details what gifts they want to give their spouse.

You may choose to own property as joint tenants with right of survivorship in place of creating a will in the event of unmarried cohabiting couples who jointly own property. In this method, you can divide your assets between you while you’re still alive, and upon the passing of one spouse, ownership of the assets quickly passes to the remaining partner without going through the probate process. Additionally, there are possible advantages to joint tenancy, such as debt sharing and proof of commitment.

Durable Powers Of Attorney

You might also want to think about granting your unmarried partner durable power of attorney, which would enable them to act on your behalf and make decisions that would be legally binding even in the event of your incapacity. You and your partner are not married, so if you want them to legally continue handling your affairs in the event you become incapacitated, you must issue them a formal durable power of attorney.

How To Create A Legally Valid Cohabitation Agreement

Cohabitation agreements are legally binding contracts, thus the best way to make sure yours is enforceable is for you and your partner to each retain an attorney to represent your interests. This makes the cohabitation agreement binding in court and guarantees that each spouse is aware of their legal obligations.

If a conflict arises later, having a cohabitation agreement is helpful since it will prevent both of you from incurring legal costs and, more significantly, headaches. Keep in mind that it is against the law for an attorney to advocate for both sides of a case. Therefore, you are unable to retain a single lawyer to act as both of your representatives or to create an agreement on your behalf. Either both of you will hire attorneys, or if only one is engaged, that attorney will represent and defend the interests of just one of you.

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