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How do courts divide assets and debts in Washington?

Property division, along with custody matters, is one of the biggest areas of contention couples typically have to navigate in divorce. And this makes sense, given that couples are very often unable to agree on how they will split up their property and debts as their marriage ends. Couples who have the foresight can take control of property division by negotiating a prenuptial agreement, but many couples choose not to do advance planning in this area.

For couples who have no pre-existing agreement on how to divide their assets and debts, and who cannot agree on how to do it at the time of divorce, a family court will have to step in and resolve the matter according to the default rules under state law. Readers probably already know that different states have different approaches to property division, and that the approach used here in Washington is generally classified as “community property,” but what exactly does that mean?

The community property approach to property division is not uniform among the nine states that use it. Here in Washington, the basic approach is to divide both property and liabilities in a way that is “just and equitable” given all the circumstances of the case. Division extends to both community and separate property, as opposed to some states where separate property is generally off the table in property division proceedings.

State statute identifies a handful of non-exclusive factors judges are to take into consideration. In our next post, we’ll look at these factors as well as some other aspects of the property division process, and why it is important to work with an experienced attorney.


RCW 26.09.080

Washington State Bar Association, “Dissolution: What you should know” Published 2011.