Much of the court's decision wasn't new law. The court affirmed it continued commitment to dividing property with an eye toward a rebuttable presumption that all property acquired by the parties in a committed intimate relationship is community property-like and should be divided in a similar way. In past cases the court has struggled with its dislike of earlier precedents on this topic is Washington and other jurisdictions that referred to these as meretricious relationships (which is latin for having the nature of prostitution) and expressed a preference for the term intimate and committed but continued to use both expressions throughout in order to quote prior cases. This time the court managed to make it through the whole decision without using "meretricious" once which is a testament to the wealth of current Washington law they can now draw on and a healthy reflection on the courts comfort with less traditional relationship agreements.
The court also upheld the idea that couples can rebut the presumption of community property if they have entered into a co-habitation agreement to have their property treated differently. They also affirmed that these agreements can be in writing and or oral. In this case the agreement was oral. The court found that in such cases the agreement must be adhered to in addition to having been entered into be enforceable but found that substantial adherence was sufficient and that minor changes along the way would not render the agreement null and void. Even though the court saved this agreement the decision is a thoughtful reminder of how hard it is to adhere carefully to oral agreements and should probably be seen as a recommendation to put any such agreement in writing so that it can be enforced without going to the Washington State Court of Appeals. The court also upheld that any such agreement needs to be procedurally fair with both parties have full disclosure and time to consider the agreement and seek counsel.
What was new law in this case was the question of first impression about what ends such a relationship. The court found that while a marriage is only defunct when there is some conduct by both parties that demonstrates that the marriage is over, a committed relationship ends as soon as one person expresses their desire to end it even if the parties continue to reside together and the other party wishes the relationship to continue.
If you are currently living with a partner in Washington or considering taking that step and want to better understand your rights or explore entering into co-habitation agreement, please contact us to schedule a free 1/2 hour consultation to discuss your situation by calling us at (206) 459-1908