What constitutes marital property in Washington State

Distribution of assets can be the determining factor in how long it takes for a divorce procedure to go through. This is because it can take a while to determine exactly who gets what when trying to split up marital assets. 

What constitutes marital property varies from state-to-state. 

Because Washington is a “community property” state, assets may be split equally between both parties. Before we dive into what is and isn’t marital property in Washington state, let’s talk about community property. 

What is community property?

The legal term “community property” refers to property, debt, and other assets that are acquired over the course of a marriage. 

Assets that can be divided include money, homes (real estate), 401(k)s and pensions, taxes, investments, and businesses.

When one spouse dies, the other is typically left responsible to distribute community property that both individuals owned jointly.

Not all states have community property laws when it comes to divorce cases. Washington is one of only 9 states that have community property laws that determine the division of assets, property and debt. Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Wisconsin also have community property laws that apply to divorce cases. 

40 other states adhere instead to equitable distribution tenants. In these proceedings, a judge will determine a fair distribution of assets. You can learn about Alaska’s unique divorce laws here

What constitutes marital property in Washington

Taking into consideration the community property laws that exist in Washington State, the following are typically considered marital property:

  • Property obtained (bought) with community funds. This can include furniture, home decor, real estate, etc.
  • Property obtained (bought) using earnings acquired during the marriage
  • Earnings, including retirement benefits, capital gains, and interest, by either party during the marriage 

Separate Property

So, if joint earnings, real estate, and other investments are considered marital property, what is considered separate?

  • Personal gifts
  • Inheritances received before the marriage OR that were not jointly gifted
  • Personal injury claims 
  • Money kept in separate bank accounts 
  • Property owned before the marriage
  • Financial assets held before the marriage
  • Vehicles owned before the marriage 
  • Any assets acquired after the marriage has been terminated

It is important to note that some of these separate property assets may be considered community assets or semi-communal assets if they have been commingled or shared between parties. 

Considerations When determining distribution of assets

Although the majority of earnings deposited in joint accounts and other assets may be considered community property, that doesn’t necessarily mean that property will be distributed in an even 50/50 split. 

There are other factors that the court and judge may rule on to determine a fair distribution of assets between both parties. 

Some factors judges will look at include (but are not limited to):

  • Age
  • Custody
  • Health conditions
  • Earning capacities
  • (Loss of) continuing benefit, and
  • Marital fault 

Avoiding Community Property Laws

Oftentimes couples may determine that they want to keep assets and property separate in case of a separation or divorce. In Washington State this can be accomplished by drafting and signing a prenuptial agreement.

Prenups are signed before a marriage takes place and detail the distribution of assets in the case of a divorce. 

For couples who are already married, postnuptial agreements exist to accomplish the same things.

For more information on distribution of assets and community property contact a Tacoma divorce attorney at the Narrows Law Group today. We specialize in matters pertaining to marriage, divorce, and family law. We offer knowledge counsel and years of legal experience to help you through your divorce.  
You can dive further into Washington State’s rights and liabilities of community property here.