Washington community property laws and asset division in divorce

There are many concerns people have to deal with in the initial stages of a Washington divorce. Your living circumstances may soon change. You may worry about what will happen to your social circle. Other concerns, like child custody, will vary depending on the circumstances of your marriage.

One relatively universal concern involves how the courts will divide assets and debts. Unless you and your spouse signed a prenuptial agreement or have agreed to an uncontested divorce, the courts will have the ultimate say in who gets what from your marriage. While it is difficult to predict actual outcomes, you can better understand likely results by learning about Washington's community property laws.

Community property means both spouses have a shared interest in assets

States have different approaches to dividing property between spouses in a divorce. In Washington, the law focuses on community property. In most cases, any new assets or debts you acquired during marriage belong to both spouses. The courts will do their best to split assets from your marriage fairly.

Many factors can influence how the courts determine a fair outcome, including the length of your marriage and your individual economic circumstances. In most cases, marital misconduct, such as adultery, will not factor into the asset division process. However, attempts to hide assets or malicious dissipation of marital assets could impact asset division.

Even items you purchased on your own can end up divided in divorce

You might imagine that assets you purchased with your own income, such as your car or perhaps collectibles, might remain your sole property in the divorce. While the courts may allocate those assets to you, they consider them as community property in most cases. You should include them, and their estimated value, in your inventory of marital assets.

Some items are separate property, which typically means they are not subject to division. Examples of separate property include items that you owned prior to getting married, gifts from people outside of your marriage and items you inherit.

Of course, if you commingle assets that were once separate possessions, they may become marital assets. If you deposited an inheritance check into a shared bank account, this would usually indicate that it has become community property. In this situation, the courts will likely divide it, even if it was originally separate property under Washington law.

Understanding that the date of acquisition matters more than whose name is on the bill of sale is an important first step. Once you understand what possessions and debts are likely subject to division, you can better estimate the value of your marital estate. From there, it will be up to the courts to determine how assets are divided.

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