Couples are encouraged to use attorneys or a mediator to help decide who gets what in a divorce. However, if a couple is not able to agree on a particular point, they may submit their property dispute to the court for a judge to make a final decision.
Property Can Be Classified in Three Different Ways
Under Washington state law, all property belonging to a married person can be classified in one of three ways:
- Community property – Most items in a divorce are considered community property, such as earnings, purchases, and assets acquired during the course of the marriage. This also includes debts incurred during the marriage. In the event of a divorce, community property may be divided, sold, or split equitably between the spouses.
- Separate property – Individual property may include gifts, inheritances (where one party was solely named as inheritor), court settlements (where one party was solely awarded funds), and pension funds. In addition, any property purchased with separate funds will remain that spouse's separate property. Property that each spouse possessed at the beginning of the marriage is generally considered separate property, although there may be exceptions. In most cases, each party will keep his or her own separate property in a divorce.
- Combined community / separate property – Sometimes property may be considered both community and separate, such as when an investment made by one spouse grows in value during the marriage. Property purchased using individual and joint marital funds may be part community and part separate property. If separate property is mixed together with community property, it is generally considered community property.
It is common for judges in property disputes to assign a total value to the property, and then award each spouse a percentage of that value. It is important to note that you may not necessarily be awarded 50 percent of the property value, but a percentage based on the judge’s assessment of your portion of the property. The resolution is not a cash settlement; each spouse will be ordered to receive assets and items worth the amount of their percentage—including any shared debt between the spouses.
If you would like to attempt to divide your property in mediation before taking it to a judge, send in the brief contact form on this page so we can get in touch with you as soon as possible.