Washington’s Community Property Law Basics

It is a common misconception that community property law means that both people in a marriage own all property in the marriage equally and that it should be divided 50/50 when the marriage dissolves. However, in practice, one spouse is often awarded a disproportionate share of the community property. There are many factors that go into the division of property, but you want to make sure your interests are protected when it comes to this difficult phase of divorce. When you hire the family practice attorneys at de Maar Law to represent you, you can be sure that we will fight for a fair distribution of property.

What Assets Are Considered Community Property?

Washington State is in the minority of states that following community property law. It is a complicated law and every marriage and divorce is different, so you will have to discuss the particulars of your case with your attorney. However, the basics are as follows. When you get married, you form a marital community. Each spouse owns a “just and equitable interest” in the marital community. This does not necessarily mean a 50-50 interest. It can result in one spouse being awarded a disproportionate share of the community under certain facts. Most property acquired during the marriage through wages, labor, or efforts are community property. This may include the following:

  • Family home
  • Vacation home
  • Cars, trailers, boats
  • Stocks and stock options
  • 401Ks, IRAs, pensions
  • Income
  • Benefits, including vacation time
  • Debt

There are some exceptions, including property that was a gift given to one spouse or an inheritance. It is best to discuss these exceptions with us in your consultation, as each situation is unique. Likewise, how inherited property was used during the marriage may affect how it is divided.

What Is Separate Property?

Property acquired prior to the marriage is often what we refer to as separate property, meaning the marital community does not have an interest in it. Whether something is separate property or community property can have serious implications to your case and it is important to understand the ramifications. The court may determine that assets you brought to the marriage are now in fact community property and must be divided equally. For example, if you had a considerable amount of money in a bank account before the marriage, but you did not maintain a separate account during the marriage, the court may consider those assets to be “comingled” with the community property and thus no longer separate property. Our experienced divorce attorneys will help you make claims for property that should be kept separate when assets are divided.

Factors Affecting Division of Property

Despite the community property law in Washington, assets are not simply divided down the middle and given to each spouse. The court will consider many factors to determine how the property is divided, including the following:

  • Length of marriage
  • Amount of property
  • Each spouse’s economic reality at the time of the divorce
  • Level of income and earning potential
  • Debt or evidence of wastefulness by one spouse

Again, because each marriage is unique, other factors may come into play when dividing assets. One factor that is not considered, however, is infidelity or bad behavior by one spouse. Because Washington is a no-fault state, the court will not be concerned with who did what to cause the divorce and this will not factor into how assets are divided unless, as mentioned above, one spouse squandered the couple’s assets through illegal or wasteful behavior.

Leave These Tough Issues to Your Attorney

Your ability to put your divorce behind you and to move on with your life will depend heavily on the assets you are able to take away from the marriage. If you are the primary caregiver to your children, for example, you may want to keep the family home. If your earning potential is less than that of your spouse, you will need greater financial support than your ex. When our family law attorneys handle your divorce, we will fight to protect your interests. Call today to discuss scheduling a consultation.