How do the Washington courts decide who gets what in a divorce?

Getting a divorce means dealing with a lot of unanswered questions. Exactly how long will the process take? What assets and debts will you keep, and what will wind up belonging to your ex? Where will you live after the divorce?

The circumstances of each marriage are unique, meaning it is not always possible to predict the terms of a divorce. Everything from how long the hearings in court take to whether spousal support is appropriate will vary drastically depending on your family situation. However, just because there is no clear-cut outcome for every divorce doesn't mean it isn't possible to educate yourself about the most likely outcomes.

While you may not know exactly how the courts will divide your assets, you can at least learn about the guidelines they use for the process. The more educated you are, the more streamlined the process could become, as you won't fight for unlikely or impossible results.

How do Washington courts approach asset division?

Each state has to set its own rules regarding how they handle various issues in a divorce. The Washington family law code outlines an expectation that the courts will use an equitable standard for all asset division. Attempting to divide your assets in an equitable manner means focusing on a fair and just outcome.

It is critical that you work to understand the fact that equitable is not the same as equal. It does not mean that the courts will divide your possessions and debt exactly down the middle. It also doesn't mean that the spouse who earned more will receive the lion's share of the acquired assets from the marriage.

Instead, it means that the courts will make decisions based on the circumstances of the spouses and the marriage. Some of the factors the courts will consider include the duration of the marriage, circumstances of each spouse and any children, custody arrangements, earning potential of each spouse and the contributions of each to the marriage.

Prenuptial agreements or mediation allow you to deviate from the standard

Generally speaking, the only time that your divorce terms will deviate from an equitable standard is if you and your ex are able to reach an agreement on your own that the courts will later approve. Some couples do this by signing a prenuptial or a postnuptial agreement that includes specific rules for how to handle marital assets and debts.

Other couples go through mediation together as a way of setting the terms for their divorce. Regardless of which approach you take, you will likely have more control over the outcome of your divorce this way. In a court-based divorce, you will have to accept the terms outlined by the courts regardless of your personal wishes. However, even when you set your own terms, the courts will still need to approve them before finalizing your divorce.

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