Selling property in Washington State by a couple that is not married and the building is in his name.

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Selling property in Washington State by a couple that is not married and the building is in his name.

My friend was left a house by my grandfather about 11 years ago. Her boyfriend (and father of their second child) convinced her to trade the house for a building and to put the building in his name, for tax purposes. Now, 11 years later, they are separating and selling the building and he plans on taking all the money. What can she do? She lives in Washington State and I don’t believe they acknowledged common law wife/husband status.

Asked on June 26, 2009 under Real Estate Law, Washington

Answers:

B. B., Member, New Jersey Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

I'm not a Washington attorney, but my research suggests that you are quite right about your state not recognizing common law marriage.

Your friend is in a difficult position, and she will need to act fairly quickly, before he gets the money and (possibly) disappears with it.  She needs a lawyer, and one place to find a qualified attorney is our website, http://attorneypages.com

It will help if she has (or can get copies) of the paperwork and banking records from 11 years ago.  One possibility that should be available would be to sue to have her interest in the property validated by the court, under a doctrine called "unjust enrichment," in which courts do what is necessary to prevent that in the interest of justice.  There may be other ways to address this as well, based on the unique facts of the case and Washington State law.


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