Understanding Washington’s property division laws

On Behalf of | Mar 27, 2023 | Divorce

Washington State is a community property state, meaning that marital property is divided equally between spouses in the event of a divorce or separation. 

To understand Washington’s property division laws, it is essential to have a basic understanding of what constitutes marital property and separate property.

Marital property vs. separate property

Marital property refers to any property or assets acquired by either spouse during the marriage, regardless of who owns the property or whose name is on the title. This includes income, real estate, personal property, retirement accounts and investments. Marital property is divided equally between spouses in a divorce or separation.

Separate property, on the other hand, refers to property or assets owned by one spouse before the marriage or acquired by one spouse during the marriage through inheritance or gift. Separate property is not subject to division in a divorce or separation and remains the owner’s sole property.

Equitable distribution vs. community property

Washington is a community property state, meaning the marital property is divided equally in a divorce. This is different from equitable distribution states, where marital property is divided based on various factors, including the length of the marriage, each spouse’s income and earning potential and the contributions of each spouse to the marriage.

In a community property state like Washington, each spouse is considered to have an equal interest in all marital property, regardless of who earned the income or whose name is on the title. This means that each spouse is entitled to half of the marital property in a divorce or separation.

Exceptions to community property division

There are some exceptions to the equal division of marital property. For example, if one spouse can prove that particular property is separate property, it will not be subject to division. Additionally, if one spouse wastes or dissipated marital assets (for example, by gambling or having an affair), a court may award a greater share of the remaining marital property to the other spouse.

Washington’s property division laws can be complex and confusing, but understanding the basics of community property and separate property can help couples decide how to divide their assets during a divorce or separation. 

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