Understanding separate vs. community property in Washington

On Behalf of | Nov 10, 2023 | property division | 0 comments

When couples in Washington state divorce, they must agree on division of property. During the negotiation, you should establish the difference between separate property and community property.

Understanding what constitutes shared marital property helps inform an equitable property division agreement.

Defining separate vs. community property

Separate assets belong to one spouse individually. They are not considered part of the marital estate. Examples include assets owned by a spouse before the marriage and inheritances or gifts received by only one spouse during the marriage. Keeping clear records of these assets helps you establish them as separate property.

Community property includes assets acquired during the marriage by either spouse. These assets include income earned, real estate purchased and debts incurred during the marital period.

Washington courts define all property acquired during marriage as community property unless either spouse establishes an asset as separate. The average household in the state has $8,500 in credit card debt, which couples must also divide fairly.

Establishing separate assets in divorce

Distinguishing separate property becomes challenging when couples combine their assets with community property. For example, one spouse may use funds from an inheritance to improve the marital home. As a result, this amount could become community property in a divorce.

Spouses can alter the classification of property through a transmutation agreement. This document specifies the intent to change the status of certain assets from community to separate, or vice versa.

Tracing is a method to establish and track the separate property status of assets. It involves providing clear and convincing evidence to show the origin and separate nature of an asset. For example, maintaining separate bank accounts for inherited funds can aid in tracing.

Understanding equitable distribution

The principle of equitable distribution guides property division in Washington. This does not necessarily mean an equal 50/50 split.

Instead, it is a fair allocation based on factors like each person’s financial contributions and the length of the marriage. Courts may also consider the future financial needs of both parties.

Distinguishing separate property from community property in a divorce involves a careful examination of the origin of each asset.

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