Mediating Conflict,
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Whose 401(k) is it, anyway?

Washington is a community property state, which means that when a marriage ends, all of the assets and property accumulated by both parties during the course of the marriage is divided in a fair and equitable manner.

This not only applies to tangible assets such as real estate, joint possessions such as the family car and the contents of your bank account, but also pension benefits and 401(k) accounts. If you’ve been contributing to your 401(k) for a long time, the prospect of losing half of it in your divorce might come as quite a shock.

The Washington courts take numerous factors into account when establishing how marital assets should be distributed, including the length of the marriage, the earning capacity and relative financial situations of each spouse and the type and value of all jointly and separately owned property.

Dividing assets after a divorce is not a simple case of splitting everything down the middle, as we discussed in a previous post. If one spouse was unable to work during the marriage, for instance, the courts may grant a greater share of the community property to them to ensure that they do not suffer financial hardship. If your 401(k) contributions are greater than those of your spouse, they may be awarded other property that has a value equal to or more than the difference, depending on your relative financial circumstances.

However, spouses may reach their own agreements on how marital assets should be divided. A collaborative divorce in which both parties can come to a mutually acceptable agreement is usually quicker and less stressful for everyone concerned than a bitter, drawn out battle. An effective family law attorney can answer any concerns that you have about losing your 401(k) and help you and your spouse to resolve your divorce as amicably as possible.