Washington State is a community property state. In general, this means that most assets acquired during the marriage (and most debts) belong to the marital community. The more usual exceptions are for assets brought to the marriage, inheritances, or gifts to one of the spouses only. These may be considered one party’s separate property. Even then, separate assets can be converted to community property if a person is not careful.

Complicated rules apply to determine whether assets are completely or partially community property. Significant evidence may be required to address these issues.

Even if it is clear that a party’s assets are separate property, Washington State does permit the court to divide both community and separate property assets. In a divorce, all of the assets are potentially subject to division by the court.

In general, the court is obliged to make a just and equitable distribution of the assets and debts. This does not necessarily mean 50/50. The court has a wide range of discretion to decide what is fair. Often times, the distribution of assets and debts are combined with payment of maintenance and the other side’s attorney fees. The court will also look at the relative financial situation of the parties. For example, if the husband earns ten times what the wife does, the court is unlikely to divide the assets and debts 50/50 and award no maintenance. It simply wouldn’t be fair. Most cases are more complicated than this example. Competent legal counsel must be obtained to address these complex issues.

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