Community Property

Along with eight other states, Washington is a community property state. In a community property state, like Washington, any property acquired during a marriage is presumed to be community property regardless of which spouse is in possession of the property or how that property is titled.

Community property not disposed of in a dissolution is owned thereafter by the former spouses as tenants in common, unless terms of a settlement agreement award undisclosed property in a different manner. Although as a practical matter, all community property should be identified and divided in the settlement agreement or divorce decree.

If you are facing divorce in Washington, you should know that Washington is a community property state. In a community property state, all income earned and property acquired by either spouse during the marriage is community property.

Generally, in community property states, money earned by either spouse during marriage and all property bought with those earnings are considered community property that is owned equally by husband and wife. Likewise, debts incurred during marriage are generally debts of the couple.

In Washington State, all community property is generally divided equally at divorce. Likewise, all debts incurred during the marriage are considered community debts and responsibility of paying them are again shared equally by both spouses.

Exceptions to the Community Property Presumption

Other types of property can be classified as the separate property of one spouse including:

  • property acquired after spouses separate but before the divorce is finalized as provided in RCW 26.16.140;
  • property acquired by one spouse prior to the marriage;
  • an inheritance to one spouse alone;
  • gifts to one spouse alone; or
  • disability benefits.

Property acquired before marriage or after the spouses separate but before the divorce is finalized is classified as separate property. As explained in RCW 26.16.140 each party keeps their post-separation acquisitions which are not considered to be community property. Pre-marriage aassets that are kept separate or are traceable to separate property may also remain the separate property of one spouse.

Is an inheritance considered community property in Washington state? As a general rule, an inheritance to one spouse is characterized as that spouse's separate property, as opposed to community property. Even though the State of Washington is a community property state, inheritance is an exception to the community property presumption.

Under Washington law, gifts received by one spouse during the marriage are separate property so long as they are never used to benefit the other spouse or marriage.

Somoe estate planning documents can convert separate proeprty into community property. Many parties do not realize the effect of such documents, or that property they believe retained its character as separate property has been converted inadvertently to community property. 

How are Assets and Debt Divided during a Divorce in Washington?

When dividing the property in a divorce in Washington, the court will indicate which party is responsible for paying which bills while dividing property and money. Generally, the court tries to divide assets and debts equally.

The property given to one party, however, can also be used to balance one another. For example, a spouse who receives more property in the divorce might also be assigned more debt.

Which states are community property states?

At last count, there were nine community property states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. Alaska is an opt-in community property state that gives both parties the option to make their property community property.

This article was last updated on Friday, January 5, 2018.