Domestic Partners, Real Estate and Mortgage

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In May of this year, Governor Gregoire signed legislation providing registered domestic partners in Washington State the same rights as married couples, which has been confirmed by the passage last week of Ref 71. In our State, domestic partners are defined as either same sex couples or where at least one partner is over the age of 62 (they do not have to be of the same sex).  

From E2SSB 5668:

"It is the intent of the legislature that for all purposes under state law, state registered domestic partners shall be treated the same as married spouses.  Any privilege, immunity, right, benefit, or responsibility granted or imposed by statute, administrative or court rule, policy, common law or other law to an individual because the individual is or was a spouse, or because the the individual is or was an in-law in a specified way to another individual, is granted on equivalent terms…"

When a couple registers as a domestic partner and if one or both partners (or spouse) owns real estate where they reside, they are now subject to community property issues as Washington is a community property state.

From the Washington State Bar Association (regarding community property):

Under this system, all property acquired from earnings during marriage (such as real estate, automobiles or household goods) belongs equally to husband and wife, even when only one is employed.

Similarly, both husband and wife are personally liable for certain types of family expenses, even if both did not agree to the particular obligation….

Moreover, neither may give community property without the consent of the other. Finally, neither may sell, convey or encumber real property (land) without both parties signing appropriate documents.

Recently I was helping a man with a refinance whom I thought was "single".  He was the sole person on loan application and did not indicate that he had a partner.  The title company discovered that he and his partner registered as domestic partners with the State of Washington.  

With regards to the refinance, this meant that my client's partner would need to either be approved on the mortgage as well or have to sign a quit claim deed and acknowledge the transaction to be in compliance with state laws.  NOTE:  Please seek legal counsel before signing legal documents that may impact your rights.

As of today, November 6, 2009, there are 6,311 domestic partnership registrations in Washington.  If you and your partner have a registered domestic partnership–CONGRATS!  If you have a registered domestic partnership and you are involved in a real estate transaction; be sure to inform both your mortgage originator and real estate agent.  One cannot buy or sell or mortgage/encumber real estate with out the other's consent…just like being married.

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