Washington is a community property state, which means that its courts only divide marital property fairly between divorcing spouses. Accordingly, assets each spouse separately owns will not be part of the division.
However, this rule is not absolute. There are instances when courts include separate properties in the asset division of a divorce, one of which is commingling.
What is commingling of properties?
Commingling properties is when a spouse’s separate asset mixes with the marital property and the court can no longer trace them during discovery. Common examples of mixing separate with community property include the following acts:
- Using separate property for marital purposes: The habitual use of a spouse’s separate property for the benefit of the household is a form of commingling. Similarly, you are merging properties when you pay for household bills and similar marital expenses with your separate money.
- Improving a marital asset using separate property: When a spouse contributes separate property, usually in the form of fungible assets, to improve a community property, they risk having the court label their share as marital. An example would be contributing cash to improve the marital home.
- Depositing own money in a joint bank account: If one spouse regularly deposits their money into their joint bank account with the other, their money will likely be part of the division since the account is marital.
In these situations, courts can label assets that were originally owned separately by one spouse as marital and include them in the division.
Protecting your interests
Property division is complex. You have to be wary of the rules and the exceptions that come with them. This way, you can develop strategies when necessary and manage your expectations. At the end of the day, you have to protect your rights to a fair property division outcome.