Washington Law Review


Amanda J. Beane


Washington's property-division scheme for unmarried couples is among the most progressive in the nation. The scheme has evolved from a time when courts treated unmarried couples unfavorably and generally refused to divide their property equitably. The Washington Supreme Court took a step forward from this approach when it created the meretricious relationship doctrine. Under this doctrine, courts may equitably divide unmarried couples' property at the termination of their relationship if the relationship was stable, marital-like, and the parties cohabited knowing they were not lawfully married. Now, however, the Washington Court of Appeals has restricted the application of this doctrine to heterosexual couples only, holding in Vasquez v. Hawthorne that same-sex relationships cannot qualify as meretricious relationships. Vasquez reasoned that because Washington law prevents same-sex couples from marrying, same-sex relationships cannot be "marital-like." The Washington Supreme Court has granted review and should reverse Vasquez. "Marital-like" has been and should be defined by the conduct of the parties and not by their legal status. The Vasquez decision unjustly denies to same-sex couples an opportunity to benefit from a property-division scheme for unmarried couples by violating public policy and reflecting heterosexist views.

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