Nine states in the country utilize what is known as the community property standard when it comes to the matter of dividing assets and debts during a divorce, and Washington is one of these jurisdictions. A common question raised by a party seeking a divorce in Washington state is whether all assets acquired during a marriage are considered marital property. The quick answer, which will be addressed more fully, is “no.”
Confusion occurs when terms are misapplied in a divorce case. The terms “marital property” and “community property” technically are not interchangeable. Marital property is defined as the assets obtained during marriage that are in fact considered owned by both spouses. Community property is the term used for the standard by which marital assets are divided between divorcing spouses in Washington.
Not all assets obtained during a marriage qualify as marital assets
There are certain assets that may have been obtained during the course of a marriage that will not be considered community property for the purposes of property division. A prime example is an inheritance received by one of the spouses during the term of a marriage. Inheritances are almost always excluded from marital assets unless the intent of the decedent was patently clear that the property should be shared jointly and equally between both spouses. Another exception would be if the inheritance was later commingled with marital assets, such as a joint savings or checking account.
Due to the complexity of dividing marital assets through the application of the community property standard, retaining legal counsel is advisable. A seasoned family law attorney will have an understanding of the principles of property division.