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Basic Rules of Asset Division

One of the most important questions in any divorce is who will keep what property. Washington is a community property state. This means that any property or income that is acquired by either spouse during the marriage is community property, and therefore belongs to both spouses. Any property that a spouse owned before the marriage is considered separate property, and does not equally belong to both spouses.

Complications often arise, however, when trying to determine if certain property acquired or received by a spouse during the marriage is actually marital property. Separate property includes such things like inheritance or gifts received during the marriage, or some personal injury awards. In addition, some property that started off as separate property can turn into marital property, depending on how the parties treat the property.

After determining what property is marital and what is separate, a judge will then need to fix a value to each asset. This value can be based on a variety of factors and the method will vary widely depending on the nature of the asset. The method for valuing a 401(k), for example, will be very different for the method of valuing a car or residence, as the 401(k) already has a dollar value easily assigned, where as a professional appraisal will probably be required for real estate.

After affixing a value to the marital property, the court will the make a distribution of assets that is fair and equitable. The court will take many factors into account, including:

  1. The length of the marriage;
  2. Each spouse’s economic situation at the time of divorce;
  3. If a spouse gave up his or her career to help support the career of the other;
  4. The extent of the marital property; and
  5. The extent and nature of each spouse’s separate property.

This list is not exhaustive, and other factors may apply to your particular situation. For example, the spouse with the primary care of the parties’ minor children will have a better chance of retaining the marital residence, as that lends stability to the lives of the children. Moreover, depending on the particular economic situation of each spouse, it is possible that the court may also elect to distribute some separate property in order to better equalize the parties’ financial situation.

The issue of division of marital property can be complex, very fact-specific, and can be affected by many factors. We are experienced in marital asset division. We look forward to talking with you about your case to discuss your marital assets and how a court may divide them. Call us at (253) 272-9459 or email us at for an appointment.

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