Washington is one of the few remaining states in the Union that is known as a “community property” state. This model of asset division holds that any property belonging to either spouse at the start of a marriage generally remains theirs to keep, while (with a few exceptions) all assets, property, and debt acquired during a marriage are treated as marital property. This model also holds that (again, with a few exceptions), all marital property must be divided evenly in the event that a marriage is dissolved.
As a result of this rigid model and interpretation of what constitutes marital property, couples who are divorcing in Washington must approach the process of preparing to divide a marital estate differently than those living in equitable distribution states. The equitable distribution model allows for a division of assets that isn’t “equal” (ie: a 50-50 split of marital property) but instead allows for a division that is fair, given the circumstances of the marriage and the nuances of the property in question.
The Driving Idea of “Value”
As an experienced Tacoma, WA divorce lawyer – including those who practice at Robinson & Hadeed – can confirm, a couple cannot hope to divide its community/marital property equally until the value of that property is established. If you haven’t been married long, you’re young, and you don’t yet own significant assets, your property division process may not involve too much more than calculating the value of the mutual, personal belongings that furnish your home and splitting the value of what you acquired during your marriage down the middle. However, if you have acquired significant assets during your marriage, you’ve been married for more than a few years, and/or your community property involves complex financial accounts, luxury property, real estate, and/or intellectual property, the process of reaching a property settlement agreement is going to be a much more complex undertaking.
One of the primary reasons why it is so important to work with an experienced attorney as early in your divorce process as you can is that it can take time to undergo valuation of your property. A lawyer may need to retain the services of accountants and other financial experts to both ensure that your property has been accurately valued and that the overall value of your mutual property can be split evenly.
Know Your Priorities
One of the best things you can do to better ensure that the structure of your community property division agreement serves your life moving forward is to know your priorities. What do you need this agreement to achieve, what are some “it would be nice if” priorities, and what are you willing to let go of to obtain successful results concerning your top priorities? Letting go of any marital property that you’ve invested in can be tough. But knowing what you’re willing to fight for, what you’d like to negotiate for, and what can be left behind can allow you to approach your divorce process with focus and intention for the better.