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Who is entitled to maintenance?

Maintenance may be ordered for either spouse in such amounts and for such periods of time as the court deems just, without regard to marital misconduct.

Are there factors the courts consider when determining maintenance awards?

Yes. Generally, courts consider the following list of factors in determining maintenance awards (however it is not limited to these factors):
(a) The financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including separate or community property apportioned to him/her, and his/her ability to meet his needs independently, including the extent to which a provision for support of a child living with the party includes a sum for that party;

(b) The time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find employment appropriate to his/her skill, interests, style of life, and other attendant circumstances;

(c) The standard of living established during the marriage;

(d) The duration of the marriage;

(e) The age, physical and emotional condition, and financial obligations of the spouse seeking maintenance; and

(f) The ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet his/her needs and financial obligations while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance.
The court will also take into consideration the economic circumstances of each spouse at the time the division of the property is to be coming effective.

Can maintenance be modified?

In most cases, yes, upon a showing of substantial change in circumstances. Each case is unique but possible changes in circumstances could include severe illness of one of the parties, a substantial loss of income not anticipated at the time of divorce, or disability of one of the parties resulting in substantially increased expenses or decreased income.

Can the modification of maintenance be prevented or limited?

Yes, if agreed to by the parties in a Separation Contract. A trial court or judge cannot order non-modifiable maintenance in a decree of dissolution.

How long do I have to pay maintenance?

It is within the court’s discretion to award spousal maintenance. All of the factors listed above are considered in determining the length and amount of maintenance. The length of maintenance is very much impacted by the duration of the marriage, the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage, the economic condition of both parties at the time of divorce, and the future earning ability of each party.

Since these factors vary so widely from marriage to marriage, an experienced attorney would best be able to provide you with guidelines.

When does maintenance terminate?

Absent language in the Decree to the contrary or a written agreement of the parties specifying otherwise, maintenance terminates automatically on the:
A. The remarriage of the recipient; or B. The death of either party.

What is a meretricious relationship?

In essence, a meretricious relationship is a living together relationship where the parties are not married. Washington state courts have defined a meretricious relationship as, “a stable, marital-like relationship where both parties cohabit with knowledge that a lawful marriage between them does not exist.” Connell v. Francisco, 127 Wn.2d 339, 898 P.2d 831, (1995).How do you distinguish between a “roommate” relationship and a “meretricious” relationship?
The court has set out several factors to be considered in determining whether a meretricious relationship exists:
1. Continuous cohabitation; 2. Duration of the relationship; 3. Purpose of the relationship; 4. The pooling of resources and services for joint projects; and 5. Intent of the parties.

Lindsey v. Lindsey, 101 Wn.2d 299 (1984) and In re Marriage of Pennington, 142 Wn.2d 592 (2000). However, the Lindsey court emphasized that the issue of meretricious relationship should be determined by the court based on the facts of each case, and that these criteria were not a rigid set of requirements to be strictly followed.

What are some examples of meretricious relationships?

The factors for determining meretricious relationships have been applied in several cases which illustrate what type of relationship rises to the level of a meretricious relationship. In In re Sutton and Widner, 85 Wn.App. 487, 933 P.2d 1069 (1997), the court found a meretricious relationship to exist where the parties cohabited for five years, socialized as a couple, and worked together, but maintained separate property and banking accounts. During their relationship, they built a house together on property previously purchased by Mr. Widner. The court held that there was a meretricious relationship based on these facts, even though the couple maintained their separate identities and accounts. Id. at 90.

Additionally, in In re Hilt, 41 Wn.App. 434, 704 P.2d 672 (1985), a meretricious relationship was also found. The parties cohabited for 4 years, during which time they purchased a home, shared in the management of household affairs, and contributed to each other’s separate checking accounts. The court specifically noted that the parties, �made little effort to keep their income separate and apart,� and held that these facts substantiated the existence of a meretricious relationship.

A meretricious relationship can exist between two parties when one of the parties was legally married to another during the relationship. In Foster v. Thilges, 61 Wn.App. 880, 812 P.2d 523, (Wn.App. 1991), the couple lived together approximately 10 years. They bought their first property together on Camano Island while Thilges was still married to another woman. They evidenced their mutual trust by putting the property in Foster’s name because of Thilges’ marital status. Foster later formally conveyed half interest in the property to Thilges. In addition, they built a home together, jointly obtained a construction loan, and both contributed considerable physical labor to the project. They also had joint bank accounts and combined theirearnings. Although it is not necessary for a couple to represent themselves as husband and wife to establish a pseudomarital relationship, in at least some of their social activities, Foster and Thilges were known as husband and wife.

Once it’s been determined there is a meretricious relationship, how does this affect property division?

In Lindsey, the court states that upon dissolution of a meretricious relationship, a court must, “examine the [meretricious] relationship and the property accumulations and make a just and equitable disposition of the property.” Lindsey, 101 Wn.2d at 304. The Lindsey court cited RCW 26.09.0802 as supporting this rule by analogy. This was later interpreted in Connell v. Francisco, 127 Wn.2d 339, 898 P.2d 831 (1995), to mean that while it is appropriate to look to RCW 26.09.080 for guidance in the division of property upon dissolution of a meretricious relationship, it does not directly apply. The court in Connell stated that, �[t]he critical focus is on property that would have been characterized as community property had the parties been married. Id. at 352.

Additionally, Connell sets out a presumption that all property acquired during a meretricious relationship is subject to a rebuttable presumption of community ownership.

Can the court award maintenance (alimony) or attorney’s fees in a meretricious relationship lawsuit in the same manner as they can in divorce proceedings?

No. Parties to a meretricious relationship are not entitled to an award of maintenance or attorney’s fees.

Does the meretricious relationship doctrine apply to same-sex couples?

Yes and no. It depends where you live. Division II (Tacoma) and Division III (Spokane) of the Washington State Court of Appeals disagree on this issue. Division I (Seattle) has yet to decide the issue. The Washington State Supreme Court also has yet to rule.