overlooked assets in a Washington divorceWashington state's community property laws require equitable distribution of assets between divorcing spouses. Unfortunately, certain types of assets may be overlooked and overvalued—leading you to receive less than your fair share. 

1. Retirement Accounts

While retirement accounts are commonly accounted for in a divorce, their full value is often not properly assessed. You need to work with an experienced Washington divorce attorney to ensure that all retirement assets, including pensions, 401(k)s, IRAs, and stock options, are accurately valued and divided. Typically, the division is done with a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). 

One common mistake women make in a Washington divorce, especially when they earn significantly less than their spouse, is giving up their interest in a spouse's retirement plan to stay in the marital home. It's understandable to be emotionally attached to remaining in your home, but retirement funds are a crucial source of long-term financial security. Let your attorney advise you on the best strategy to protect your interests.

2. Deferred Compensation

Executives and other high-level employees may receive deferred compensation, such as bonuses or stock options, which may vest in the future. If you think your spouse might have bonuses or stock options, your attorney can advise on discovering these assets' value. 

Reviewing your spouse's employment contract can provide insight into the terms and conditions associated with deferred compensation. This information can help you understand the timing, frequency, and eligibility criteria for receiving bonuses or stock options. The discovery process allows you to request specific documents and information related to your spouse's finances, including bonus-related documents, through formal legal channels.

3. Business Interests

Professional practices, partnerships, sole proprietorships, or closely-held corporations should be assessed and factored into your divorce settlement. This includes businesses operated jointly as well as those that were operated solely by one spouse. A business valuation not be conducted by a business broker, as they are likely to assign a value that is too high. We can recommend well-respected experts who value businesses just for a divorce.

4. Intellectual Property

Intellectual property rights, such as patents, trademarks, and copyrights, can have a significant value both now and in the future. To assess the worth of these assets, you may need to have an industry expert look at factors such as projected sales, licensing fees, royalties, or any other revenue streams associated with the intellectual property. A Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) analysis is commonly used to estimate the present value of future income streams.

5. Professional Degrees and Licenses

In Washington state, the court recognizes that a professional degree or license acquired during the marriage can be considered a community asset subject to division. If your spouse earned a degree while you were married, you might be able to receive compensation for the contributions you made towards tuition and living expenses as well as the effect the degree had on increasing your spouse's earning potential. 

6. Collections

Your spouse might undervalue or hide jewelry, artwork, antiques, or other collectibles. If you didn't actively participate in growing and maintaining the collection before your divorce, your spouse may be counting on you not realizing the value of the asset. 

Online platforms, auction catalogs, specialized collectibles publications, and galleries can provide insights into recent sales, market trends, and price ranges. However, you may want to consider hiring a professional appraiser with expertise in the specific type of collection your spouse owns. An appraiser can provide an unbiased value assessment based on factors such as rarity, condition, and current market demand.

7. Cryptocurrencies 

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin provide a certain level of anonymity, making them an attractive option for hiding assets. Bank statements and credit card statements can be a good starting point if you're concerned your spouse is hiding cryptocurrency. Look for any transactions or transfers with mentions of popular cryptocurrency platforms or exchanges such as Binance or Kraken. However, if your spouse has taken steps to hide their cryptocurrency, these transactions may not be easily identifiable without outside assistance.

8. Undisclosed or Offshore Bank Accounts

Even if you paid all household bills from a joint account during your marriage, your spouse might decide to open a new bank account in their name only or in the name of a trusted third party and divert funds to these accounts to keep them hidden. They could also transfer money to offshore accounts or jurisdictions with strict banking secrecy laws in an attempt to deliberately conceal assets. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to consult a forensic accountant.

Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington
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