Washington is one of just nine community property states in the U.S. This means that in every divorce in Washington, both spouses are entitled to half of the marital assets, including income, real estate, and even debt.
Divorce is already a stressful enough situation, and the complication of splitting up belongings can make it even more difficult. If someone gets the TV, who gets the couch?
The issue of who owns something can get nasty in these kinds of disputes. Personal property can be claimed in most states; however, marital property must be split 50/50 in community property states like Washington.
To help you understand all there is to know about community property states, the
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Jerry is breaking things down. Continue reading to learn what exactly a community property state is, what it includes, and certain exceptions to this law.
All marital assets are jointly owned in a community property state, and as a result, they must be divided equally in the case of a divorce. This can include earnings, stocks, personal property, cars, marital residence, bank accounts, and any other assets or debts acquired during the couple's marriage.
Washington is a community property state alongside the following:
Other states in the United States have a common law property system, which enables divorcing spouses to claim any assets or income owned in their name. In a common-law divorce, you can reclaim all of your assets as long as your ex's name is not on the paperwork.
Community property laws, ideally, are intended to make divorce processes easier by dividing everything equally.
Separate property vs. joint property
The majority of property acquired during the marriage is subject to community property law; however, there are several exceptions. The following are examples of separate property:
Anything given as a gift to you or your spouse
Anything inherited by you or your spouse throughout your marriage
Anything you or your spouse obtained through a trust fund or will
Anything obtained before the marriage by you or your spouse
Anything gained while you and your spouse were legally separated
According to Washington law, community property is defined as property gained by either spouse during the marriage. You’re likely to see the same community property items and exceptions outlined above if you live in Washington.
If a couple moves from a non-community property state to Washington, the property acquired by each spouse in that other state is deemed separate property in the event of a divorce.
It's important to remember that if an item is commingled with community funds, it may lose its separate property status, especially if the distinct property is difficult to identify as such.
For example, if you bought a couch before your marriage and your spouse paid to have it entirely reupholstered, the line between community and separate property might become blurred. This could make it harder to determine who gets the couch in a divorce.
What if there’s a prenup?
A prenuptial agreement can be used to get around Washington's community property laws. Creating a prenup is one way to plan ahead and figure out how your financial assets would be shared in the case of a divorce, regardless of your state's laws.
Though it’s designed to make the legal proceedings of divorce easier, it can still be a complicated process to divide community property 50/50—you can’t really split a kitchen table in half!
In general, there are two ways to divide community property in Washington:
Come to an agreement with the other side in the divorce.
Allow the property to be divided by a judge.
The nature and origin of the property, the individual spouses' finances, child custody, and other relevant considerations will be weighed by the judge when allocating property to each spouse. They will make certain that the total amount of property obtained by each spouse equals the net value of the other party's property.
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