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Meet Amanda J. Cook, Family Law Attorney

Washington Divorce Lawyer Assisting with the Division of Assets and Liabilities

If you are planning to file for divorce in Washington state, or if your spouse already has filed for divorce, it is essential to learn more about the division of assets and liabilities in the state. For the most part, any property acquired after the date of your marriage and prior to the date of your separation—both assets and liabilities—will be subject to division in your divorce. It is important to have an experienced Washington divorce attorney on your side who can advocate for your rights throughout this process.

Washington is a Community Property State

Washington State is one of only a handful of states that is still a “community property” state. When it comes to dividing assets and liabilities in a divorce, there are two different types of states in the U.S.: equitable distribution states and community property states. In equitable distribution states, courts classify property as marital or non-marital (separate) property, and the court divides all marital property in a manner that it determines to be equitable (or fair) to both spouses—but not necessarily equally. 

Differently, in a community property state, both spouses have a 50 percent interest in all community property under Washington law. Courts still classify property as either separate property or community property, Washington courts typically divide only the community property. While the traditional manner of dividing property in a community property state was to split it equally, or 50/50, Washington courts will take into account factors that would make a division of the community property “fair and equitable” to both of the parties.

Classifying Separate Property and Community Property

How do Washington court classify property either as separate property or community property? In general, all property acquired after the date of marriage but before the date of separation will be considered property of the community (the marriage), and all community assets and liabilities will be subject to division. However, there are some exceptions that include the following:

  • Inheritances during the marriage intended for only one spouse, and not intended as an inheritance for the married couple; or
  • Gifts given to one of the spouses during the marriage that are not intended to be gifts for both spouses.

Property includes all assets and debts from the marriage, or community assets and debts. This means, for example: 

  • Real estate;
  • Home furnishings;
  • Motor vehicles;
  • Credit card debt;
  • Medical debt;
  • Checking or savings accounts;
  • Retirement accounts; and
  • Employee benefits.

It does not matter if the property is titled in the name of only one of the spouses—if it is acquired after the date of the marriage and prior to the official date of separation, it is likely to be classified as community property. Once property is classified, it will be valued based on market value.

What is the Date of Separation?

While courts typically will use the date of separation to determine when any acquired assets or debts cease to be community property, the date of separation might not be so clear. For example, if the spouses do separate but attempt to reconcile even briefly, then the official date of separation might not occur until after that failed attempt at reconciliation.

Commingled Property in a Washington State Divorce

Sometimes it can be difficult to classify certain property. For example, sometimes separate property might get “mixed” with community property if one of the spouses uses assets acquired prior to the marriage to make a purchase of community property during the marriage (such as a house or apartment). There are numerous reasons that it may be complicated to properly classify separate or community property.

In most situations, the court will attempt to determine which portion of the property should be classified as separate or community property. Sometimes, however, the property may be so intertwined that the whole property will be classified as community property.

How Courts Determine What is Just and Equitable

When a Washington court divides community property, it takes into account factors designed to ensure that both parties leave the marriage in a place that is economically fair to both of them given the circumstances of the marriage. Accordingly, Washington law (RCW 26.09.080) allows courts to consider all relevant factors, including the following specific factors as it decides what a just and equitable division of community property looks like: 

  • The nature and extent of the community property;
  • The nature and extent of the separate property;
  • The duration of the marriage or domestic partnership; and
  • The economic circumstances of each spouse or domestic partner at the time the division of property is to become effective.

Contact a Washington State Divorce Lawyer

Do you have questions about property division and community property? A Washington divorce lawyer can help. Contact the Law Office of Amanda J. Cook PLLC today.

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…Divorce and child custody issues are stressful enough to continually go through ,but Amanda always knew how to ease some of that stress. There’s no better feeling than having the utmost confidence in your attorney. Amanda was always there whenever we had questions or needed clarification. She’s hands down one of the best around!

Steve & Marissa

Amanda went above and beyond to help us in every way when it came to our custody issues. She was there for us every step of the way. Her knowledge and expertise helped us at every turn. She is a wonderful person and even better lawyer to have on your side. Thank you ever so much Amanda for your time and effort.