Understanding Asset Division in Washington State Divorces
When a marriage comes to an end, one of the most contentious and important aspects of a divorce is the division of assets. In Washington State, the distribution of marital property follows the principles of 'community property.' This means that any assets and debts that were acquired during the marriage are considered jointly owned and must be divided equitably upon divorce.
Community Property Explained
In Washington, the law presumes that all property and debts accumulated during the marriage are owned equally by both spouses, irrespective of whose name is on the title or account. This includes but is not limited to real estate, vehicles, furniture, savings accounts, retirement accounts, and even business interests.
Separate Property Considerations
Separate property, on the other hand, refers to assets acquired by a spouse before the marriage or obtained as a gift or inheritance. These assets typically remain with the original owner post-divorce. However, separate property can become community property if it is commingled or used for the benefit of both parties during the marriage.
The Equitable Division Process
The equitable division is not necessarily a 50/50 split but rather what is fair and just for both parties. Factors that influence this determination include:
- The duration of the marriage
- The financial situation each spouse will face after the divorce
- Whether one spouse made career sacrifices for the other's education or earning potential
- The liquidity of the property involved
- The desirability of awarding the family home to a parent with custody of children
A historical example of this can be seen in In re Marriage of Short, where the Washington Supreme Court emphasized that courts must consider non-economic contributions to a marriage when dividing property.
Retirement Accounts and Pensions
Retirement accounts and pensions are often significant assets subject to division. The court will often issue a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) which recognizes joint interest in retirement plans and provides for a future division of benefits.
Debt acquired during a marriage is also subject to division under community property laws. Courts will look at who incurred the debt and why before deciding how it should be divided.
Seeking Legal Guidance
Navigating asset division can be complex, which is why many individuals seek legal assistance from attorneys who specialize in family law. For those looking for more information on Washington's asset division statutes, refer to Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 26.09.