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Navigating the Complexities of Property Division in Divorce Cases


Navigating the Complexities of Property Division in Divorce Cases


The decision to end your marriage is never an easy one. You do not enter into a union with the belief that it will come to an end. Unfortunately, sometimes divorce is inevitable. When you have decided to divorce, you will likely be concerned about the proper distribution of your property. Washington is a no-fault divorce state. 


In Washington, divorce is also called dissolution of marriage. Even in a typical no-fault divorce, the distribution of assets can become complex. Understanding how property division works in divorce and the factors that may impact distribution in a Washington divorce is helpful. An experienced divorce attorney will guide you through the process and ensure that you obtain a fair settlement. 


How the Court Divides Property in Divorce


In a no-fault divorce, the couple ends the marriage based on irreconcilable differences. If only one spouse believes that the marriage is irretrievably broken, then a divorce will be granted by the court. The parties do not need to agree on whether reconciliation is possible... In Washington, the division of property must be fair and equitable. In many cases, marital assets are divided in a 50/50 manner, so each party leaves the marriage with roughly equal shares of the whole marital estate. To split assets, you must know the difference between separate and community property. 


The Difference Between Separate Property and Community Property


Community property is generally property that you acquire after you get married. Property that you owned before your marriage is usually considered separate property and is usually not included in property distribution, although it must be disclosed. Separate property is anything you owned before you got married. In addition, there are several exceptions. Gifts that you receive, inheritances, and certain lawsuit awards are several examples of things that could be considered separate property. Sometimes, separate property can be more challenging to distinguish. 


How Separate Property Becomes Community Property?


Although you may own some property separately, there are some ways in which it can become community property. One of the most common situations occurs when one person owns a home prior to marriage. When both parties contribute to the mortgage payments, upkeep, and maintenance expenses, the other person or the marital community may have at least a partial interest in it. Another time when separate assets could include marital assets is when a person contributes to a retirement fund such as a pension or IRA. Part of the assets could be separate, while part may belong to both spouses. These types of situations can be complex and may require guidance from a knowledgeable family law attorney.


Mixing Separate Property and Community Property


When spouses begin to mix their separate property together, it can create some complexities in property division during a divorce. For example, if spouses mix their personal bank accounts together and both have access to them, the court may determine that the funds are now community property. The same could hold true for a home. If you add your spouse’s name to a house deed, it may become community property, regardless of who made the original purchase. 


Financial Disclosure


Both parties in a divorce are required to provide financial disclosures. These documents provide details of your finances at the time of your separation, prior to marriage, and through the pendency of the divorce. A disclosure is utilized in the division of assets in divorce. It is critical to provide accurate information. If a party to the divorce is found to have been lying about assets or has hidden assets, they could suffer negative consequences. The judge could punish a party for failing to disclose assets by granting a disproportionate award. 


What is a Disproportionate Award?


The court may decide to award property in a disproportionate manner. When this happens it means that the judge believes that there are facts that demonstrate that one party will have greater financial need or other circumstances arose during the marriage that make an unequal distribution fair. One example of when this could occur is when a spouse has a disability and is dependent upon the other spouse. Another example is when one spouse is the homemaker and the other is the breadwinner in a long-term marriage. In these instances, a court could choose to award one party more than a 50% share of community assets. 


Long-Term Marriages


Long-term marriages are those that continue for about 25 years or more. Generally, the court recognizes that in a long-term marriage, both parties have been united and pooling their financial resources for an extended period of time. Therefore, the courts typically divide property in a way that will enable both spouses to live equitably after the divorce. While a party may have owned some assets separately prior to marriage, it is often the case that partners commingle their assets in a long-term marriage.  Although it is rare, the court may award the separate property of one spouse to the other if it finds it to be a fair solution. 


Prenuptial Agreements in Divorce Settlements


A prenuptial agreement is a contract between both parties that they enter into prior to marriage. A prenup goes into effect as soon as you get married. The prenup typically provides details for how assets will be divided in the event of a divorce or death. When a valid prenup is in place, it will dictate your divorce settlement and a judge will rule accordingly. There is no statute in Washington that governs prenups, but in general, the judge will honor it as long as it is fair in substance and both parties have agreed to it under fair circumstances. A prenup might include a sunset clause that ends the contract if the marriage lasts a particular length of time. 


When you decide to divorce, it is important to know your current finances at the time of your separation. Gather financial information and documents that show all aspects of your current financial status. You will want to consult with a skilled divorce attorney to assist you in the process. Uncoupling can be challenging from an emotional standpoint, but it can be equally as difficult to resolve your finances. 


You can count on our legal team to get answers to your questions and guide you every step of the way. Call us today at View Ridge Family Law & Estate Planning at (206) 502-4748 to schedule a consultation. 



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