Understanding Common Law Marriage in Washington: Legal Perspectives

In Washington State, the concept of common law marriage often leads to confusion and misconceptions among couples. Unlike some states where living together for a certain period grants marital rights, Washington does not recognize common law marriage. However, couples seeking legal recognition of their relationship without formal marriage have options to consider. The Hodgson Law Office provides expert insight into this matter, particularly concerning WA common law marriage and its legal implications for property rights, inheritance, and more.

Washington’s Stance on Common Law Marriage

Washington State does not recognize common law marriages formed within its jurisdiction. This means that couples who cohabit without formalizing their relationship through marriage or domestic partnership do not automatically acquire the legal rights and responsibilities of married couples.

Implications for Unmarried Couples

Property Rights

Without the legal framework of marriage, the division of property for couples who separate after a long-term relationship can become complex. Washington courts may apply principles of equity and fairness but will not automatically divide property as they would in a divorce.

Inheritance Rights

Unmarried partners do not have the same automatic inheritance rights as spouses. Without a will or estate plan, a partner may not inherit from the other’s estate under state law.

Legal Recognition of Relationships

While Washington does not recognize common law marriage, it does offer legal mechanisms for relationship recognition, such as:

  • Domestic Partnership: Available to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples, providing many of the same state rights as marriage.
  • Committed Intimate Relationships: Courts may recognize long-term, stable relationships and equitably divide joint property upon separation.

Protecting Your Rights as an Unmarried Couple

Cohabitation Agreements

Couples can create cohabitation agreements to outline the terms for property division, financial support, and other matters if the relationship ends.

Estate Planning

Establishing wills, durable powers of attorney, and healthcare directives can ensure that partners have the necessary legal authority to make decisions on each other’s behalf.

Legal Advice and Representation

Consulting with a family law attorney, such as those at the Hodgson Law Office, can provide unmarried couples with guidance on drafting agreements and understanding their legal options.


While Washington does not recognize common law marriage, understanding the legal landscape is crucial for unmarried couples wishing to protect their rights and assets. With proper planning and legal advice, couples can secure many of the protections and benefits afforded to married couples. The Hodgson Law Office stands ready to assist individuals in navigating these complex issues, ensuring that every couple, regardless of marital status, can make informed decisions about their future together.

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