Family Law Keyed to Weisberg

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Topic /161
Vasquez v. Hawthorne

Citation. Vasquez v. Hawthorne, 99 Wn. App. 363, 994 P.2d 240, 2000 Wash. App. LEXIS 229 (Wash. Ct. App. Feb. 11, 2000)

Brief Fact Summary. Two male adults lived together as life-partners for years. One of the men passed away, and the other brought suit against the estate claiming an entitlement to the community property under the theory that they were involved in a meretricious relationship.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. The Court found that the relationship was not meretricious or quasi marital because the parties were unable to legally marry.

Facts. Frank Vasquez and Robert Schwerzler lived together for almost thirty years. When Schwerzler died, he had assets including the house he and Vasquez shared, a life insurance policy, two automobiles, and a checking account. No will was found. Vasquez filed a claim against the estate claiming he and Schwerzler had been homosexual life-partners and that he was entitled under case law for division of property in meretricious relationships to a share of the community property. Hawthorne, the appointed personal representative for the estate, denied his claim. Vasquez appealed to the superior court and it ruled in his favor, awarding nearly all of the property to him on partial summary judgment. Hawthorn appealed.

Issue. Did the trial court err by treating Vasquez’s relationship with Schwerzler as a meretricious relationship because as a matter of law, same-sex relationships cannot be meretricious relationships?

Held. The trial court erred. A same-sex relationship cannot be a meretricious relationship because such persons do not have a quasi-marital relationship.
A meretricious relationship has been defined as a stable, marital-like relationship where both parties cohabit with knowledge that a lawful marriage between them does not exist. Previous precedent has provided that a relationship must satisfy three elements to be meretricious: 1) it must be stable; 2) it must be marital like; 3) and the parties must cohabit with knowledge that a lawful marriage between them does not exist. If these factors fit the relationship it is accorded pseudo community property treatment.

The Court determines from precedent that a meretricious relationship is one where the parties may legally marry. The Court finds no precedent for applying the marital concepts, either rights or protections, to same-sex relationships. Such extensions of the law are best left to the legislature. There is other potential legal resource for Vasquez, such as constructive trust and implied partnership.

Discussion. Based upon precedent the Court found that because a same-sex relationship could not result in a legal marriage, is was not a quasi-marital relationship. However, the claimant could have other potential legal rights to recover property from his former partner.