When it comes to property division, divorce is very different in Washington than it is in most of the country. That’s because Washington is one of only nine community property states. The majority of the U.S. uses equitable distribution to divide marital property in a divorce.
What is a community property state?
A community property state is a state where marital property is generally divided 50/50 in a divorce. That means that whatever a couple owned together during their marriage gets divided equally, regardless of each spouse’s role in obtaining the property or their current financial situation.
On the other hand, equitable distribution states divide property based on what is considered most “fair.” Judges take many different factors into account during property division hearings including each spouse’s contributions to the marriage and their incomes.
What is marital property?
Before marital property can be split equally, spouses must determine what the marital property is. Any property that was obtained prior to the date of marriage is considered the separate property of either spouse. Any income, investments, real estate, business assets or debts that were acquired after the date of marriage are marital property.
Equal doesn’t always mean fair
There are many situations where dividing marital property equally does not result in a fair situation. For example, let’s pretend that the higher earning spouse acquired a large personal gambling debt during the marriage. It wouldn’t seem fair for the lower earning spouse to be saddled with half of that debt.
In situations where a 50/50 split would be drastically unfair, divorcing couples may agree to reach a more equitable division of the marital property. Divorce mediation can be used to work out a property division agreement outside of court.