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Lawsuit tests property rights for same-sex couples

Lawsuit tests property rights for same-sex couples

A Washington State woman in a longtime lesbian relationship is suing her estranged lover to divide assets they shared or accrued while living together. The trial started Tuesday before retired superior court judge Harold Clarke II and is based on a court ruling last year that gay couples can be treated like married couples when they split up. Roseanne Day concedes that Linda Kelsh is entitled to keep her home and business assets. Day wants part of the proceeds from the sale of undeveloped Lake Spokane property purchased in Kelsh's name while they were together but sold after they split. Day also wants compensation for improvements she says increased the value of Kelsh's home. The state court of appeals ruled last year that the legal doctrine on "meretricious"--marriage-like--relationships applies to same-sex couples, even though they can't legally wed in Washington. The state supreme court had laid out several criteria for determining whether property acquired by unmarried couples should be divided as though they were married. One of the criteria was the couple's intent to assume marital roles that are legally denied to gays. Day claims in court documents that she took on the role of "wife" when she moved into Kelsh's home in mid 1990. State law doesn't allow unmarried partners to collect alimony, but Day, a part-time high school language teacher and coach, wants compensation for contributions she says she made as "the little hausfrau" during the relationship. In the October 2003 Spokane County superior court lawsuit, Day contends she contributed her pay to household expenses and sometimes worked without pay in Kelsh's Candy 'N' Carmelcorn store at the Northtown Mall before the couple broke up in December 2002. Day seeks compensation for the amount a mortgage was reduced while she lived with Kelsh, starting in 1990, as well as for appreciation in the home's value. In a counterclaim, Kelsh contends Day should have to reimburse her for the equivalent of 11 years of rent and other support, including much of the cost of Day's master's degree in education at Eastern Washington University. Kelsh also seeks reimbursement for electric bills, cellular phone bills, and personal debts Day ran up on a credit card. Kelsh says the credit card was supposed to be reserved for trips the two took together. Kelsh contends Day contributed little to their relationship, which she says ceased to be romantic in 1998. Day failed to help her financially or emotionally when she suffered colon cancer and her business collapsed, Kelsh claims in court documents. Day acknowledges she owes Kelsh about $3,000 for credit card charges but contends that would be offset by proceeds from the sale of the Lake Spokane property. (AP)

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