Every marriage is unique. So is every divorce. Each state has its own laws and guidelines regarding all the issues that couples must resolve when they decide to end their marriage. Washington is one of only nine states that operates under community property laws, which can greatly affect a particular outcome in court.
In this state, community property is basically defined as possessions and ownership interests acquired during marriage. It also refers to debt that a spouse or spouses incurred while married. Under these laws, community property is typically equally divided between spouses in divorce.
Possessions and ownership interests might include income, investments and/or capital gains. Any items purchased with earnings acquired during marriage would also be considered jointly owned property. There are exceptions, such as property purchased in another state that does not recognize community property laws after which the couple in question then moved to Washington and subsequently filed for divorce. Some couples sign prenuptial agreements as a means to clearly identify separately owned property.
If a grandparent or other benefactor leaves an inheritance specifically designated for one spouse only, then Washington community property laws would categorize it as a separately owned asset. Property purchased before spouses married may also be held as separate ownership. Property division laws can be complex, which is why it is always best to speak to someone well-versed in such issues before filing a petition to divorce. An experienced family law attorney can not only answer questions about community property laws but can also help negotiate a fair and binding settlement.