Community Property in Washington
All property acquired by either spouse during their marriage is considered “community property” in the state of Washington. This includes all income, real property, personal possessions, equity, intellectual property, and all other assets. It also includes all debt that accrued during the marriage.
Many kinds of property are not considered community property, including property acquired by each spouse before the marriage, property obtained by gift or bequest, and some legal settlements (like personal injury recoveries). However, the court can consider this “separate” property to be community property in certain circumstances. Determining what should be divided as community property can be a contentious evidentiary issue.
Valuation of Community and Separate Property
In a high-asset divorce, questions often arise about the value of investments, real property, art, collectibles, vehicles, businesses, and intellectual property. Each spouse should retain experts to value these assets and debts properly. The court may also appoint a forensic accountant, business valuation expert, or other professional it thinks would be helpful.
Division of Community Property
If the spouses do not propose their own agreed arrangement, the court will divide their community property in a “just and equitable” manner. It doesn’t consider the parties’ actions or any “fault” in ending the marriage; rather, it considers a number of factors and generally tries to make sure both spouses are in stable financial positions. Each spouse’s presentation of the evidence in their favor is crucial to the success of their position.
Challenges to Prenuptial Agreements
Washington law allows spouses to enter into prenuptial agreements waiving their rights to alimony or establishing the type, amount, and duration of such support. However, there are numerous restrictions on these contracts. They may not be enforced if, during the marriage, the spouses acted in ways that contradicted their terms. It may also be possible to challenge their enforcement based on economic or procedural unfairness.
Collaborative Divorce and Mediation
Especially in high-profile, high-asset divorce cases, collaborative divorce or divorce mediation can be a great alternative. Attorneys represent both parties, but the negotiations are handled privately and confidentially — outside of court. This can help avoid the public exposure of sensitive financial matters and allow you to finalize your divorce out of the spotlight.