Property Division Lawyer Serving King and Snohomish County
After support and child custody, one of the most divisive issues in a divorce is splitting up property. Division of property means more than just who gets the house, but also how much of that credit card bill each spouse is responsible for paying. Washington is a community property state, which means that all possessions and assets acquired, and all debts incurred during the marriage are considered to be jointly owned and jointly owed.
This is not always as straightforward as it appears. Questions often include the real value of an asset or whether an asset is actually separate, as opposed to community (marital), property. Our skill and experience will assist you in achieving a “just and equitable” division of property with an eye to retaining those items that you value most.
Separate versus community property in Washington
What’s mine, what’s yours and what is (or was) ours. That’s the question at the heart of property division. Separate property is mostly anything you earned, acquired or owned before you got married. It also includes anything that was given as a gift to a spouse by “gift, bequest, devise, descent, or inheritance.” (In some cases, it may also include money received by one spouse from a personal injury claim.)
This is where it can be tricky because if money received from an inheritance is co-mingled with joint funds or is used to pay rent, mortgages, or other household bills, it may be considered community property. On the other hand, if you are able to trace separate assets through its various iterations it will maintain its character as separate property. If you acquired an asset or incurred a debt during the marriage it will be presumed to be community property, absent “clear and convincing” evidence to the contrary.
Assets that can be included in the division of property
Although Washington is a “community property state,” all property and debt—both separate and community—is technically before the court for division in a divorce or legal separation, although only rarely will a court order a spouse to receive the separate property of the other spouse. Among the most common items included are:
- Money: Checking and savings accounts and any other cash that is part of the household fund is divided between you and your spouse.
- Retirement accounts: Roth IRAs, 401(k)s, and pensions earned during marriage are subject to division. Some retirement accounts require the entry of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) prior to distribution to the other spouse.
- Employment Benefits: Employment benefits such as stock options or awards granted during the marriage
- Businesses: A business that was formed during the marriage or was formed using marital assets will be considered community property subject to division by the court. Under certain circumstances—such as under compensation for the labor of the owning spouse—businesses that were initially the separate property of one spouse may be deemed community property by the court.
- Homes: The marital residence and any real estate acquired during marriage is subject to division, although there may be allowances for the contribution of separate property by a spouse.
Just because your house, for instance, is community property, it doesn’t mean it must be sold. There are often trade-offs, and perhaps you decide that your spouse gets the home in exchange for you keeping other items of similar monetary value. Overall, community property issues can be satisfied as long as the property division meets the court’s objective of “just and equitable.”
Factors that may play a role in how property is divided
Like issues surrounding spousal support and other divorce-related matters, there are variables that the courts take into consideration when determining division of property. Keeping in mind the just and equitable rule, these include:
- Who wants a specific item, and who is the primary user? For instance, if one spouse uses the pickup truck as part of his or her business, chances are they will receive it as part of the property division.
- Who can afford it? Debts can be a prickly issue, but the higher wage-earner will likely pay the majority of any marital debts, depending on the overall division of property and debt.
- Are there minor children involved? Often, courts will deem that it is in the best interest of the child to remain in the home where they’ve been living. In that case, the home will go to the custodial (residential or primary care) parent, if it is financially feasible.
Get the solid advice and sound strategies you need regarding division of property
Our experienced family law attorneys understand that property can feel personal, and we work with you to make sure that your rights are protected and that you are dealt with fairly. To schedule an appointment to discuss your needs and goals, please call us at (425) 275-5000 or contact us online.