Dividing Property and Debt in Divorce

  1. Family Law
  2. Dividing Property and Debt in Divorce

One of the many challenges a divorce attorney must tackle is dividing the parties’ property and debts. When a relationship ends, all assets and liabilities must be divided equitably, not necessarily equally. If the parties can’t agree on how to divide their assets and liabilities, the court will decide based upon Washington law and its interpretation of what is fair.

Washington State is a community property state for divorce purposes. This means all property acquired by either party during their marriage is considered community property and may be divided equally.

However, there are exceptions to this definition that depend on the specific circumstances of each case.  Your divorce lawyer will be able to examine your specific case and advise which assets are community property and which are separate property under the law.

Community property usually includes:

  • All money earned by the parties during their marriage such as job income, rental proceeds from investment property, capital gains, increased retirement benefits, and more.
  • Any property purchased during the marriage and using marital earnings.
  • Any property bought using community funds.

Certain property is considered Separate Property in Washington such as:

  • Gifts given to only one of the spouses.
  • Inheritance received by one spouse.
  • Property purchased before the marriage.
  • Property acquired by the parties in a different (non-community property) state during the marriage but before the parties moved to Washington if they decide to obtain a divorce here.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Property that is not defined as community property under Washington law can become community property if it is combined (legally called commingled) with community property. The separate property loses its legal status once it is mixed with community property.

For divorce purposes, property includes:

  • real estate
  • vehicles
  • bank accounts
  • life insurance policies
  • financial accounts
  • retirement accounts
  • businesses
  • personal property such as furniture, electronics, and appliances

Debts and liabilities include all financial obligations incurred during the marriage without regard to which party acquired the debt or whether the debt is held in one spouse’s name or both. If one spouse is better able to pay the debt, for example if they earn substantially more than the other spouse, the spouse with the higher income will most likely be responsible to pay the majority of the marital debt.

The court’s objective is to provide a fair and equitable division of assets and debts that will allow the parties to maintain a similar standard of living after the divorce. However, both parties may experience a decrease in living standards because they will be paying regular living expenses for two separate households after splitting their assets.

As your divorce lawyer, my goal is to protect your future during the dissolution proceeding. If possible, I recommend negotiating a reasonable settlement outside of court which allows you to hold firm on your most important issues and concede on the matters that are less important to you. Without an agreement, you place your future in the hands of a stranger (the judge) who doesn’t know the details of your life like you do.

Rest assured that if settlement is not possible, my decades of divorce trial experience mean I will fiercely advocate your case to protect your financial future. Call (425) 259-2755 or complete our simple form to set up a free initial consultation to discuss your specific circumstances and how we can help. We also offer virtual meetings if you prefer.

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