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  • Laurel Carbone Kern

For unmarried couples, planning is critical.

Updated: Jun 26, 2019



You're not married, and you're living with your partner. You need to do some planning, or things are going to get real expensive and stressful.

It’s the age-old tale: Two people meet, fall in love, and move in together. One works, maybe both work, they share household responsibilities, buy groceries for the house, and form (in the eyes of Washington state law) a Committed Intimate Relationship (“CIR”).


Hold on. The eyes of the law? We didn’t invite “the law” in here! What’s “the law” doing with its creepy eyes?


Back before same-sex marriage was legal, Washington courts faced a challenging situation: People were sharing assets, sharing household work, loving and living together for a long time, sometimes their whole lives – acting like married people – but when they broke up or one partner died or became ill, the law treated the partners very differently than it would have treated married folk. This, Washington courts said, was inequitable and unjust.

Washington's solution: the Committed Intimate Relationship doctrine. The CIR doctrine is the state's effort to balance the equities– to treat people in CIRs almost as though they were married. The Washington courts also noted that a lot of folks, not just same-sex couples, were living like married people without actually being married, and the CIR doctrine should be applied to them as well.

Take Cindy and Bob, for example. (They aren't real, but you know how examples work.) Cindy is a doctor. She’s very busy so when her sink springs a leak, instead of watching Youtube videos and going down to the hardware store, she calls Bob to fix it. Bob is a free spirit that does gigs here and there to pay bills. Cindy and Bob fall in love. They move in together. Cindy continues working. Bob buys groceries, fixes things when they break, makes the house a warm and inviting home for him and Cindy. Cindy brings up the idea of marriage, but Bob is a free spirit that doesn’t need a piece of paper to prove he loves Cindy. Cindy is fine with that, and they live happily together for 20 years. And then Cindy dies.

Before the CIR doctrine was in place, Cindy’s heir - her parents - who have never liked Bob and his lay about, good-for-nothing ways, would be able to immediately come in to Bob and Cindy’s house and tell Bob to get the heck out.


Wait, you say! Bob and Cindy loved each other and he may not have contributed much money, but he did all the laundry and shopping and maintenance and….

Prove it, Cindy’s heirs say! Show me receipts for this couch, for those dishes, for that bed. Present testimony. Show me text messages that prove that lamp was a gift!


Now Bob is not only grieving, but in the midst of an intense legal battle to prove that any of the things that he and Cindy picked out and used over their relationship were his too. See what I mean? Unjust. Also, expensive and stressful.

Enter the Committed Intimate Relationship doctrine. Now, if you romantically cohabitate with someone and pool resources (including money and effort), the CIR doctrine will be applied. It will still require Bob and Cindy’s parents to run up legal bills proving that the CIR existed and for how long and whether certain things were gifts, or purchased as separate property, or purchased with an intention of joint use, etc. But at least Bob’s not getting kicked out of his home before there’s even been a funeral.


Legal bills? There are still legal bills? Can't we, possibly, somehow, pretty please avoid this?


Yes, you can! It doesn’t need to be legally challenging when one of two romantically cohabitating individuals dies or experiences disability or illness. All you need to do is a little pre-planning.

What that planning will look like is a little different for everyone. If you want to know more, we would love to talk with you about it. Best part, the conversation about how it could benefit you doesn't cost anything. Contact us at (206) 395-5737 or hello@tallgrassnorthwest.com to set up a free consultation, either in person, video chat, or phone call.

Disclaimer: Reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship, and it is not formal legal advice. This is for information purposes only. Your best bet, always, is to speak with an attorney about your questions, assets, concerns, and needs.


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