Couples going through a divorce must divide their property and debts. Washington State is a community property state, which means that and debts acquired during marriage is owned equally by each spouse.
Community and Separate Property
In Washington, property and acquired during a marriage is presumed to be community property.
Property acquired by either spouse before the marriage, by gift or inheritance during the marriage, or after date of separation is the spouse’s separate property. The separation date isn’t necessarily the physical separation date; it requires a defunct marriage as evidenced by both spouses. It is generally the date one spouse has decided to end the marriage, the other spouse understands that decision, and there are no subsequent reconciliation attempts such as counseling. It can become a big issue if, for example, one spouse either earns or spends a significant amount of money just before the divorce.
Whether an asset is separate or community can become complicated if separate and community assets are combined or “commingled”. Many types of assets can be partially community and partially separate, including retirement accounts with contributions made before and during marriage and after date of separation and separate property businesses to which the other spouse has contributed community labor or funds. Distinguishing community from separate property can become very complex, and having an experienced Seattle family law attorney is important to assure you get the best result.
Determining Property Value
Property and debts of significant value must be valued. A real estate appraisal can help determine the value of real and valuable personal property like artwork and antiques. Retirement assets such as pensions often require the assistance of an expert accountant to value.
Dividing the Property and Debts
A court may order a 50/50 split of community property and debts. However, certain other factors – aside from community property – such as duration of marriage and economic circumstances of the spouses, are taken into account in the property division so that there are a range of possible outcomes. Washington property division requires the court to make a “just and equitable” division based on several factors, not a straight 50/50 split.
Property can be divided by assigning each asset to a spouse, allowing one spouse to “buy out” the other’s share, or by selling the property and dividing the proceeds. Though generally discouraged, divorcing spouses can also agree to hold property together for a period of time after the divorce.
Debts are also assigned, including mortgages, car loans, and credit cards, to one of the spouses. However, creditors may continue to try and collect a community debt from either spouse. If that occurs, the non-liable spouse may seek reimbursement and related attorney fees and costs under a hold-harmless provision.
Call Weintraub Law Office at (425) 374-4045 or contact us online to request an appointment and learn more about property division in the context of a divorce case.
Weintraub Law Office has offices in Seattle, Bellevue, and Bothell and represents clients in King, Snohomish, and Pierce County.