When a couple decides to end their marriage, one of the critical questions they face is how to divide their property. Washington is one of the few remaining states that classify property as either community property or separate property. Understanding the definitions of both kinds of property and the effect of the state's community property law may require the assistance of a knowledgeable family law attorney.
Community property is all property acquired by the couple or by either spouse during the marriage. Community property includes all earnings of both spouses during the marriage, income from assets, such as real estate or a business, and the appreciation in value of those assets. Community property also includes assets acquired with community funds, even if a title is taken in the name of only one spouse. Income earned on retirement plan assets is considered community property.
Separate property is any property owned by either spouse prior to the marriage and any gifts or bequests received by either spouse during the marriage. To be considered separate property, gifts and bequests must be clearly designated as intended for one spouse or the other. If a gift or inheritance is given to both spouses, it will be considered community property.
If the couple is unable to decide for themselves how to divide their property, the court will do so. Generally speaking, the court will split community assets and debts evenly between the spouses, and each spouse will receive their own separate property. Dividing community property after a long marriage often requires the expertise of lawyers, accountants, and appraisers. Anyone wondering about how community assets may be divided would be well advised to seek the advice of an experienced family lawyer.
Source: FindLaw, "Washington Marital Property Laws," accessed on May 7, 2018