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Getting Divorced: What Is Important to Know About Dividing Assets in Washington State

Getting divorced is never an easy task. The emotional pressures aside, couples deciding to divorce will need to begin the process to divide property. This process is particularly painful if the spouses are not on amiable terms. If you are unsure of what to expect when going through the process of dividing assets in Washington, consider the information below. 

What Do I Need to Consider When Dividing Assets?

When starting the process of dividing assets, you should make a list of any and all property you or your spouse had prior to the marriage. Consider whether you have proof of ownership prior to marriage, as this could be useful later on. Then, make a list of property acquired during your marriage. Last, be sure to have copies of any prenuptial agreements that were signed before the marriage. Washington is a community property state, which means that spouses need to consider carefully what property they acquired before the marriage and what property they obtained after they were married.

Community Property Defined

Community property can be difficult to define depending on the couple’s unique circumstances. Generally speaking, community property is all the property that the couple amassed during the time they were married. Typically, any property that was acquired prior to the marriage is classified as separate property along with inheritances during the marriage or property awarded to one of the spouses as a result of recovering from an injury. If your case proceeds to trial, judges will determine on a case-by-case basis how to divide assets because, while community property is a factor, there are other factors considered when determining what is fair based on each spouse’s financial and other circumstances.

What Factors Do Courts Consider When Determining Division of Assets?

Usually, courts will look at a variety of factors when determining how to divide assets between spouses that are getting divorced. In theory, community property is divided 50/50 between the spouses for the property acquired during the marriage. However, should the divorce proceed to trial–and given the facts of the case–judges can make a “disproportional” (that is, NOT 50-50) award of assets.  Judge do not have to make a 50-50 award.  They need to make an award that is “just and equitable.” Among other things, judges will consider factors such as the length of the marriage, the level of education of each spouse, and each spouse’s earning potential. (Judges also consider these and other factors when considering an award of alimony–referred to as “spousal maintenance” in Washington.)

These factors are balanced with the community property acquired during the marriage. When assessing earning potential, and if applicable, judges also assess the length of time it might take the spouse who has been a homemaker and has raised the children to obtain education/training to enter the workforce if they have been absent for an extended period of time.

Dealing with Real Estate

One of the most difficult decisions that a court may have to make in Washington is how to divide the marital home. For many couples, this will be one of their largest assets if not their largest asset. For couples that have children, courts do not like to uproot children unless absolutely necessary. If the court is able to allow one parent to live in the home when dividing the couple’s assets, it typically will be the parent that has majority custody of the children. When couples have “50-50” custody, some courts allow the couple to share living in the marital home for a transition period until a final decision can be reached through mediation or trial. The logic behind these decisions falls in the court’s desire to find the best possible outcome for the children. However, the court sees fit to achieve this goal, it will do so when considering the marital home. This entire matter increases in complexity if a couple owns more than one residence such as a rental home.  Typically, the couple will agree to sell the other residence, or one spouse will keep it and buy out the other spouse’s equity in that property.

What if I Own a Business?

Dividing a business between spouses can be complicated. If the spouses started the business together, the court will try to find a way to determine which spouse was running the day-to-day of the business and which spouse was not. If both spouses were running the business equally, one spouse may opt to be bought out of their share of the business. Businesses that were inherited from family members that existed independently and before the marriage are usually excluded from this calculation.

What if We Have Retirement Accounts?

Any money that has been earned and put into retirement plans and accounts during the marriage falls into the community property definition. Courts look at the “whole picture” when considering dividing assets, meaning that if one spouse was given the marital home or the primary interest in the business, the other spouse typically will receive more of the retirement income. It really depends on what the couple acquired during the marriage and how the court deems appropriate to divide the assets.

Should I Consult with an Attorney in Washington State?

When deciding to get divorced, it is always recommended to consult with an attorney. By doing so, you will be able to have an advocate with experience helping you navigate your divorce proceedings that can many times be sad and stressful for your family. If you have decided to file for divorce and are located in Washington, reach out to The Levey Law Group. The Levey Law Group is located in Tacoma, Washington and has over 28 years of experiences with representing clients in divorce cases in Washington and in other “family law” areas such as modification of court orders, enforcement of court orders, LGBTQ, third party custody, committed intimate relationships, and paternity.

In order to learn more about the Levey Law Group and the resources they have available, reach out to us today to schedule your complimentary consultation to discuss the specifics of your case by dialing (253) 272-9459 today.

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