As a community property state, Washington considers marital property and most income to be equally owned by both spouses even if they file taxes separately. However, there are some property and income that are considered separate within the state laws.
What is separate property?
Separate property is any property that meets specific legal conditions within the state to be defined as being owned by only one spouse in the marriage. The most obvious separate property refers to property acquired before the marriage took place, such as if one person bought a house before they were married. However, there are other ways of establishing separate property, including:
• The couple coming to a legally binding agreement to separate a formerly marital property for separate ownership, also known as transmutation
• One spouse receiving an inheritance or gift in their name only during the marriage
• Income earned from the inheritance or from the separate property
What is community property?
Community property is the property and income that courts consider jointly owned by both spouses. This includes any property bought during the marriage as well as the income each spouse earned during the marriage, bank accounts and retirement accounts.
During the division of property in a divorce, separate property is not divided. Assets considered marital property and the income each spouse received during the marriage as well as bank accounts, retirement accounts and pensions are divided equally between the spouses.
Getting legal advice for your situation
Since each state has different rules on community and separate property, you might find it helpful to consult with a family law attorney about your divorce. A lawyer may help you figure out your separate and marital property and prepare for negotiations with your ex-spouse.