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In re Muridan

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

March 27, 2018

In re: DONALD MURIDAN, Appellant,

          MELNICK, J.

         Over the course of a relationship that lasted over six years, Donald Muridan and Nicole Redl lived together, had a child together, and were engaged to be married. The trial court found that the parties had a committed intimate relationship (CIR) and, after the relationship ended, classified certain assets acquired during the relationship as community-like property subject to a 50/50 equitable division between the parties.

         On appeal, Muridan argues that he and Redl did not have a CIR. In the alternative, Muridan argues that even if a CIR existed, it ended prior to Muridan's August 2014 acquisition of the most valuable asset at issue, a 25 percent ownership interest in a retail marijuana business.

         Applying the five-factor test found in Connell v. Francisco, 127 Wn.2d 339, 898 P.2d 831 (1995), we conclude that the trial court properly decided that the parties entered into a CIR. In addition, we hold that substantial evidence supports the trial court's finding that the CIR lasted from approximately December 2008 to February 2015. Finally, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in characterizing or dividing the parties' assets. We affirm.



         A. Overview

         In April or May of 2008, Muridan and Redl met online and began a dating relationship. In either December 2008 or January 2009, Redl moved into Muridan's North Tacoma home. In December 2009, Redl became pregnant with the parties' only child, D.M. In December 2010, after D.M.'s birth, the parties became engaged. Although the parties never married, they continuously cohabitated and shared parenting responsibilities for D.M. until Muridan ended their relationship on February 27, 2015.

         B. Muridan Diagnosed with Cancer

         In February 2009, Muridan received a prostate cancer diagnosis. In order to obtain health insurance for Muridan through Redl's employer, the parties signed an affidavit of domestic partnership.[1] Muridan obtained insurance and received cancer-related treatment for the remainder of the parties' relationship. Redl and D.M. often accompanied Muridan to his treatments. In 2011, Muridan's prostate surgeries rendered him impotent.

         C. Parties' Financial Relationship

         When the parties met, Muridan had part ownership of a fencing installation company and earned $120, 000 per year. Redl was a teacher and earned $67, 132 per year. The parties had separate retirement accounts, and Muridan owned the North Tacoma home subject to a mortgage.

         For the first eight months of cohabitation, Redl paid Muridan $800 per month in rent. After eight months, the parties orally agreed that Redl would no longer pay rent, but she paid the cable bill and, after D.M. was born, 100 percent of daycare expenses for the first 24 months. Redl also paid both parties' medical insurance. Both parties contributed to groceries. Muridan paid the mortgage, utilities, and daycare expenses for the next 24 months. He also paid for D.M.'s food, clothing, extra-curricular and vacation expenses. In addition, Muridan bought a car for Redl's use; Redl paid the car insurance. The parties' financial arrangements were based on oral agreements.

         After D.M.'s birth, Muridan added Redl as a beneficiary to both his life insurance policy and in his will. In 2013, prior to filing individually for bankruptcy, Muridan gave Redl $20, 000 in cash "to hold for him." Br. of Appellant at 11. Redl later returned $5, 000 to him. The parties also shared a joint bank account. In September 2014, Muridan opened a joint Key Bank checking account. The parties also had a joint safety deposit box at Key Bank.

         D. Other Relevant Events

         After attending couples counseling together in 2012, the parties decided to have another child using in vitro fertilization (IVF). The parties attempted IVF treatments in 2012, and again in 2013. The treatments were unsuccessful.

         In March of 2014, Redl met John Sidell. Redl and Sidell began a clandestine sexual relationship; however, Redl remained in a relationship with Muridan. In November, Muridan posted on Facebook that Redl was "the love of my life." Report of Proceedings (RP) (July 6, 2016) at 285. In December, Muridan learned of Redl's involvement with Sidell. Muridan and Redl did not immediately end their relationship. Both parties indicated their desire to stay together for the sake of D.M.

         In the next two months, Muridan, asked his lawyer to add Redl to the title on his house, and presented Redl with expensive gifts and a Valentine's Day vacation to Palm Springs.

         On February 26 or 27, 2015, Muridan read a letter from Redl's doctor informing her that she was pregnant. Muridan correctly guessed that Sidell was the father. Redl moved out of Muridan's North Tacoma home, gave birth, and married Sidell.

         E. Property at Issue

         This case focuses on three assets that Muridan claims are solely his separate property. First, a $50, 000 note for the sale of marijuana equipment; second, Muridan's partial ownership interest in a marijuana company, Rainier on Pine; and third, a Timberland Bank account with a balance of $25, 000.

         1. Marijuana Equipment Sale

         In 2011, Muridan closed his fencing company and opened a medical marijuana dispensary. It operated from the spring of 2011 until May 2014. In 2013, Muridan sold equipment purchased for the dispensary for $50, 000. Muridan held a $50, 000 note from the sale.

         2. Rainier on Pine

         In August 2014, after the dispensary closed, Muridan acquired a 25 percent ownership interest in the Rainier on Pine retail marijuana business. Shortly thereafter, Muridan became embroiled in a legal dispute with his co-owner. In October 2015, the parties executed a buyout in the form of a settlement contract. In order to extinguish Muridan's interest in Rainier on Pine, his co-owner agreed to pay Muridan $700, 000.

         3. Timberland Bank Account

         Muridan held multiple bank accounts during his relationship with Redl. Muridan had one account, in his name only, at Timberland Bank. It had a balance of $25, 000 when the relationship ended. The trial court divided the Timberland Bank account in half.

         II. Pierce County Superior Court Proceedings

         The trial court held a hearing and found that, between December 2008 and February 27, 2015, the parties were in a CIR.[2] The court explained its reasoning:

The court finds that the parties were indeed in an equitable/committed intimate relationship based on the following factors: The parties continuously cohabitated together for at least a period of seven years, [3] which is evidenced by the conceiving and birthing of a child, two attempts at artificial insemination, living together, holding ...

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