What does community property mean in a divorce?

On Behalf of | Feb 13, 2024 | Property Division

In Washington State, the concept of community property plays a crucial role in the division of assets during a litigated divorce. As one of the few states in the U.S. that adhere to community property laws, Washington operates under the principle that all property acquired by either spouse during the marriage is considered community property and thus belongs equally to both spouses.

Understanding key concerns related to property division in Washington is critical for anyone going through a divorce in this state. After all property is listed, one of the first things done is to determine what qualifies as community property that must be divided during a litigated divorce if spouses can’t agree on a mutually-agreeable approach outside of court.

Community versus separate property

Community property includes earnings from employment, property purchased with those earnings and debts incurred during the marriage. It is presumed that both spouses contribute to the acquisition and maintenance of such assets, whether through financial means or the support of the household, making them joint owners of the property.

Separate property refers to assets acquired by either spouse before the marriage and gifts and inheritances received by one spouse, even during the marriage. Separate property is not subject to division under community property laws and remains the sole property of the original owner unless it has been comingled.

Division of community property

During a litigated divorce or legal separation in Washington, the court seeks to divide community property justly and equitably. It is important to note that this doesn’t always mean a 50/50 split. Instead, the court considers various factors such as the duration of the marriage, the financial situation of each spouse, the nature and extent of the community property and any separate property owned by the spouses.

Because the task of dividing a marital estate is often a complex undertaking, it’s crucial to understand these factors and how they apply to your case, if you’re facing an impending divorce or have already started the process. Working with someone familiar with these issues may ultimately be very beneficial as a result.