The end of a marriage is an emotional experience, but the divorce process itself is largely one of technical details and arguing over money. Of course, these arguments themselves can get quite emotional.
The division of property is the most time-consuming, complicated and frustrating part of many divorces. The good news is that Washington law makes it at least somewhat easier than other states.
Washington is a community property state
Many states have an “equitable distribution” model of property division. This means the parties must come to a financial agreements that meets state guidelines for fairness.
By contrast, Washington and many other states, chiefly in the western United States, use a community property model for property division. Under the community property system, almost all property acquired by the parties during the marriage is considered to be the property of both spouses.
When a married couple divorces in Washington, they must first list all their assets and debts, then divide any separate property from the community property. Separate property may include assets acquired before the marriage, assets inherited by one of the spouses, and a few other categories of assets. Next, they must divide the community property.
Not as easy as you might think
Remember when we mentioned good news? You knew bad news was coming, right? The bad news is that community property law is not as simple as it appears at first glance.
In theory, since both spouses own the community property, they should be able to split it up 50-50, but it rarely works that way. Some assets, such as bank accounts are easy to divide in half. Others, like a house, can only be split 50-50 if they are sold and the proceeds are divided. Some, like retirement accounts, require complex action to divide.
In fact, the property division process in most Washington divorces involves a lot of negotiation. In total, it may look like 50-50, but the split is rarely neat. Those who are considering a divorce should speak to an attorney about all their options for protecting their finances.