Can separate property become community property in Washington State?

It is important for people to understand that separate property can become community property.

When people decide to divorce in Federal Way, the next thing they must do is divide their property. According to the Washington State Legislature, property acquired after the marriage ceremony is considered community property. As such, the property belongs equally to both spouses and neither one can dispose of that property through transfer or sale without the permission of the other.

Separate property is defined as property that has been given to one spouse as a gift, inheritance, devise, bequest or descent. Additionally, property that was owned by the spouse prior to the marriage would also be considered separate property and therefore not subject to division. That said, there are instances where separate property could become marital property.

Mixing separate with community

One way that separate property could lose its status is by mixing it with community property. For example, one spouse has received a significant sum of money from a relative as an inheritance. The spouse transfers those funds into an account with both spouses' names on it, thereby giving the other spouse access to that money. In a divorce, the other spouse might be able to successfully argue that the money is community property.

Likewise, if a spouse marries and then adds the other spouse's name to accounts that hold separate income, a judge could rule that the money has become community property in that it was used by both spouses. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers states that spouses may decide to loan separate property to the other spouse and transfer that property into a community account. However, while the spouse, who initially owned the property, may consider the money loaned to the other, a judge may not see it that way. As such the loan could be classified as a gift and therefore the receiving spouse would not have to pay it back in a divorce.

Adding spouse's name to deeds

No one wants to believe that their marriage will ever end in divorce and some spouses make the decision to add the other spouse's name to a house's deed or to other properties. This can be a big mistake as a court may see the action as the transfer of ownership to both parties equally.

Paying the mortgage or upkeep expenses on a separately owned property from community property may also lead to problems. For example, if one spouse owns the home but both spouses pay for it, it could establish a community property interest for the other spouse. Dividing community property in Washington State can be complicated so it would be of benefit for people to meet with a family law attorney.