The Fallacy of relying on Common Law Marriage.
Many people believe they are in a ‘common law marriage.’ It is a concept that has entered the popular lexicon, and is commonly spoke of. People rely on this ‘status’ to protect them from errors on bank accounts, deeds, and other important documents. However, one of the fundamental truths is that most of the nation doesn’t recognize common law marriage.
Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah are the only states in the nation which allow people to enter into a full common law marriage. If you live outside of them, you are not married without a marriage license, filled out and filed according to the policies and laws of your state.
In Washington, we do not have ‘common law marriage.’ As stated above, if you believe you are effectively married, the truth is you are not. If you want to be married, in Washington, the only way to do that is to have a filed marriage license, properly recorded. If you have been relying on the status of being ‘common law married’ to deal with ownership of property, bank accounts, and the like, our best advice to you is to stop. Go get married. A civil ceremony, performed by any judge, will rectify the situation with two witnesses.
Washington does have something which could be confused for Common Law Marriage, which doesn’t help the situation. A Committed Intimate Relationship is not a marriage. It is a very limited doctrine. It is an attempt to rectify some of the harms done by choosing to not acknowledge Common Law Marriage, but it is not a substitute.
There are many differences. One of the biggest is that you have to prove the existence of CIR (Committed Intimate Relationship). A marriage isn’t something that generally has to be proven, except by showing a document. While it might seem easy to prove the existence of a marriage, please remember that any kind of fact that must be proven must be proven in a trial. Meaning, that even to begin discussing how to divvy up property, you could be looking at a months or years long battle, with the expenses incurred.
The second is that the scope of matters that can be considered is limited. The court cannot award Spousal Maintenance outside of certain very specific circumstances. That means that despite being together for decades, a stay at home mother could be left with nothing to support herself. The second is that while in cases involving marriage, the court has the automatic authority to award Attorney’s Fees based on the economic circumstances of the parties, in the case of a CIR, no such authority exists.
In short… a CIR is a backstop meant to catch people who made a mistake. The best thing to do is it to not make the mistake in the first place.