what is a meretricious relationship

Meretricious Relationships

Goldberg Jones Divorce, Paternity Leave a Comment

When you find yourself confronted with the need to interact with the legal system, you suddenly realize that there are many fancy sounding legal terms that you need to be familiar with in order to resolve your legal issue.

We assume that you are familiar with the concept of a “Common Law Relationship”. However, Washington State Law doesn’t recognize Common Law marriages.

Meretricious relationships are a hot topic for questions, namely what are they and how they might affect someone’s rights when a relationship ends.

First, let’s determine if it applies to you; do you have a valid marriage certificate?

If the answer to that question is “yes” then you are NOT in a Meretricious Relationship so you can breathe a little easier. Don’t stop reading though! We all have friends who any of the terms and scenarios we address in our blog posts might apply to and it’s great to be a helpful friend when someone you care about is suffering through relationship issues.

What is a “Meretricious Relationship”?

When two people live together in a “Committed Intimate Relationship (CIR)” Washington State Law may deem them to be in a Meretricious Relationship after analyzing the following criteria.

  1. Continuous cohabitation (How long have the couple lived together?)
  2. Duration of the relationship (How long have they been together as a couple?)
  3. Purpose of the relationship (Was the relationship formed for romantic reasons or as more of a business partnership?)
  4. Intent of the parties
  5. Pooling of resources and services for joint projects (What has the couple purchased together?)

What are the requirements for a Meretricious Relationship?

The Washington State Supreme Court clarified the requirements. In Re Pennington, 142 Wn.2d 592 (2000).

A meretricious relationship is a stable relationship evidenced by such nonexclusive factors as cohabitation, duration, purpose, pooled resources, mutual services, and intent of the parties. Distribution of property acquired during a meretricious relationship is subject to a three-part test:

  • (1) the trial court must determine whether a meretricious relationship exists;
  • (2) if such a relationship exists, the trial court evaluates the interest each party has in the property acquired during the relationship;
  • (3) the trial court then makes a just and equitable distribution of such property.

It is important to note the primary difference between divorce and this relationship designation.

With a divorce, there is a legal document immediately proving the relationship exists but in the case of a Meretricious Relationship, it must be proven that the relationship meets the designated requirements outlined above and this takes the knowledge of a skilled attorney to accomplish.

This must also be accomplished before you can even get into issues of custody or asset division. As with many aspects of the law, things that may seem like common sense to you or a bit counter-intuitive aren’t always viewed in a way that would make sense to a non-legal expert.

Once the relationship has been determined to meet the criteria to be considered a Meretricious Relationship by the court, they will then evaluate the interest each party has in the property acquired during the relationship and then determine a just and equitable distribution of that property. In dividing the property and other assets, the court will turn to community property laws for guidance. Although community property laws do not directly apply to meretricious relationships, the court is permitted to use them for reference in determining the just and equitable division of any “community-like” property and assets that the parties acquired during their relationship.

Meretricious Relationship and child custody

Matters become even more complicated when the relationship has resulted in the birth of children. If you are the parent of a child created in a meretricious relationship, it is absolutely critical that you retain a family law attorney to assist you in protecting your parental rights.

There has been some helpful legislation during the past half century, such as the “Parentage Act” that will aid you but an attorney is necessary to see that the law is used correctly as it is applied to your specific case.

In 1973 the Uniform Law Commissioners promulgated the Uniform Parentage Act.  In its time it led a revolution in the law of determination of parentage, paternity actions and child support.

  • A child whose mother was not married was an illegitimate child under the common law.
  • The father of an illegitimate child was burdened neither with rights nor obligations.  He could be subject to an action for limited damages (the costs of delivering the baby for the most part) in an action that was quasi-criminal, not a civil action.
  • The child had no right of support, but then the unmarried father also had no rights to custody.

The 1973 Uniform Parentage Act was the law for a new generation. Section 2 of the Uniform Parentage Act confirmed and completed the revolution with very simple language: “The parent and child relationship extends equally to every child and every parent, regardless of the marital status of the parent.”

There have been some additional laws enacted to protect the parental rights of unwed parents since 1973.

The Uniform Status of Children of Assisted Conception Act provided rules establishing legal parentage for children conceived other than by sexual intercourse and possibly carried by a woman other than the legal mother.  It was a response to the technologies of assisted conception, like in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination.

In 2000, the National Conference promulgated a modernized version of the Uniform Parentage Act, which squarely addresses technological changes, especially the development of DNA identification, and which incorporates and replaces the 1988 act (USCACA). In 2002, further changes to the Uniform Parentage Act were promulgated, extending the act to also provide balanced coverage to questions of parentage arising in non marital circumstances.

The 2002 Uniform Parentage Act continues to serve the purposes of the 1973 Uniform Parentage Act and is important to parents and children.

Many people choose to forgo marriage as a way of avoiding the hassle of paperwork and planning a wedding. Just make sure that if you do choose to go that route, you do it with your eyes open and with an awareness of what you’ll be up against if the relationship goes sideways at some point. If you’re reading this you’re likely already at that point and as always, we strongly advise you to retain an attorney who is well versed in the law as it applies to your situation.

Related Reading: Do I Need a Parenting Plan If We Weren’t Married?

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