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How the community property law affects your assets in a divorce

On Behalf of | Mar 18, 2024 | Asset Division

In Washington state, specific state laws govern divorce. If you’re going through this process, it’s crucial to understand these laws and how they may influence the outcome of your divorce. One critical aspect of these laws is the division of property. Washington follows the community property law which means you and your spouse have equal rights to most properties acquired during the marriage.

But how exactly does this apply to you and your spouse?

Marital property is divided equally

Most U.S. states follow the equitable distribution principle. In these states, courts divide marital assets in a manner that considers various aspects of each spouse’s situation and the circumstances of the marriage. However, Washington State operates differently. In this state, most assets spouses acquired during the marriage are “community property.”

Under Washington’s community property laws, you and your spouse co-own anything you both acquired during the marriage. So, during the asset division of the divorce process, these shared assets are typically divided equally between you and your spouse. This applies to physical property, like houses and cars, and intangible assets, like retirement accounts and debts.

However, “equal” doesn’t necessarily mean “identical.” For example, you might get the family home, while your spouse might receive retirement accounts of equal value. The court doesn’t split each item in half. Instead, it ensures that the total value of the assets you receive is roughly equal.

Your assets during a divorce

It’s essential to understand that not all property is marital property. Certain assets—like those you owned before the marriage or gifts and inheritances you received individually during the marriage—are separate property and not subject to division.

Moreover, while the starting point for division is equality, there are exceptions. Although it’s less common, a divorce court in Washington State may make an unequal distribution of assets if there are compelling reasons. These might include a significant discrepancy in the spouses’ incomes or if one spouse is the primary caretaker of children. However, it’s important to remember that these are exceptions, and the standard approach in Washington is to divide assets equally.

Knowing the specifics of community property law is crucial in setting your expectations for the divorce proceedings. However, since every situation is unique, consider consulting with a legal professional. A legal professional can help you understand how these laws apply to your specific circumstances.