What Is Marriage?

Marriage is a contract that creates a community, both economic and personal, between two persons not nearer of kin than second cousins, one of whom is a competent, consenting, unmarried adult and the other of whom is a competent, consenting, unmarried adult.  (Note that the gender of the marrying partners has, under Washington law, recently become irrelevant.)  Seventeen year olds may marry with a judge’s waiver.  RCW 26.04.010, 26.04.020.  One must have a license to marry (RCW 26.04.140), and wait three days after acquiring the license before solemnizing the marriage (RCW 26.04.180).  The person who signs the certificate of marriage must be qualified to do so (RCW 26.04.050).

One cannot become married to another person by living with that person (common law marriage) under Washington law.  However, common law marriages validly formed in other states are recognized under Washington law.  In re Marriage of Pennington, 142 Wn.2d 592, 14 P.3d 764 (2000).  Unmarried parties who live together in Washington may establish, knowingly or accidentally, a committed intimate relationship, which may have property effects in many ways similar to those of marriage.  If the committed intimate relationship terminates, the court will treat the fruits of their labors during the course of the committed intimate relationship as community property and make an equitable division of it.  The court will not, however, divide either parties' separate property as a result of the termination of a committed intimate relationship.

Marriage between parties of the same sex is now valid in Washington.  RCW 26.04.010(3).  Partners of the same sex may also qualify to register as domestic partners.  RCW 26.60.  Marriage between partners of the same sex is now permitted as a matter of federal constitutional law.