What is a Meretricious Relationship?

What is a Meretricious Relationship?


When working through estate planning, estate transference, or family planning issues, things are not always as clear-cut as we tend to write about here.  For instance, what if you and your unmarried partner (in a meretricious relationship) c0-parent a child from one of your earlier relationships and there’s an untimely death, who will be responsible for temporary guardianship?  

As you can start to see from this brief example, the definition of your relationships are key to starting to unravel the puzzle that can be estate issues in unforeseen situations.   If you are living together and not married, you should understand what a meretricious relationship is.


Requirements of a Meretricious Relationship

Even though there are no specific “requirements” to be in a meretricious relationship, there are some factors that are looked at when the nature of a relationship comes into question, for legal issues like trusts, estates, and more..

  • Length of the relationship: How long were you in a relationship with the other person? There are no set timeframes, but typically it is a minimum of 2 to 3 years.
  • Time of continuous cohabitation: How long did you live together? Again, there is no set timeframe.
  • Nature of the relationship: Did you behave as though you were married? If you both treated the relationship as a marriage, then this is one thing that a court can take into consideration.  If you thought of your relationship as a marriage but your significant other did not, then your relationship may not be considered meretricious if aspects of your family protection planning are not strictly defined.
  • The extent to which the funds and assets are commingled: Did you share a bank account? Did you own your house together? Again, this is showing marriage-like behavior and would factor into how assets are divided. 
  • The intent of the parties in question: Were both of you intending to stay in the relationship long-term? If you had no intention of it being long-term, then your relationship may not be considered meretricious.
  • Stability and commitment to your relationship: Were you both faithful to each other during your whole relationship? Did you have a loving and stable relationship? Your relationship will be considered not meretricious if one of you were not faithful or if you had an unstable relationship.
  • Living as though married (have a family together, refer to each other as husband and wife, etc.)


Two things to note: 

  • Washington state can recognize same-sex relationships as meretricious relationships.
  • Even though the state recognizes meretricious relationships in certain situations, it does not give the relationship the same rights as a legal marriage.
  • A couple generally needs to live together continuously for a minimum of 2-3 years and present themselves as being in a committed relationship like a marriage.


An Example of a Meretricious Relationship

John and Susan have been dating for the past five years.  They live in the same house, share a bank account and bills, and have a 3-year-old daughter together.  Everyone they know considers them married even though it is not legal.   Their relationship can be considered a meretricious relationship.


Rights in a Meretricious Relationship

When you are in a meretricious relationship you the right to have a contract with each other, you have a shared duty to support any children you have together, you have property co-ownership rights and a shared responsibility for debts and liabilities. However, you will not receive the same tax benefits as a married couple, and there is no duty to financially support one another during or after the relationship.


Other Areas Where You May Have an Issue Being Unmarried:


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