Community Property Law in Washington State
Community property law in Washington determines the character of a property in marriage or a marriage like relationship. The relationship between spouses is regarded as a type of partnership. The marriage is a community of which each spouse is a member, equally contributing by his or her industry to its prosperity, and possessing an equal right to succeed to the property after its dissolution. In a divorce proceeding the court distributes all property, community or separate, equitably between the parties. That means, a party with more separate property may get less than half of the community property if the court finds that such distribution is equitable. The word ” equitable” does not mean “equal” or “50/50”. Celebi Law Office is here to help you navigate through the difficult and complex process of divorce and aggressively protect your financial interests.
Characterization of Property
During a marriage, the property of the spouses may be the husband’s separate property, the wife’s separate property or community property. Property is “characterized” as separate or community depending on when, where and how it was acquired. It will be relevant whether property is acquired before, during or after the marriage; whether it is acquired while the couple is domiciled in a community property or a common law state; and whether it is acquired by onerous effort or through some form of gift. Washington community property law helps determine the character of a property. However the characterization of a property, in many cases, is not straight forward. In fact, it can be very complex. Your best bet is to consult with an experienced community property attorney and avoid costly mistakes.
Separate property is property acquired before marriage or acquired during marriage by gift, bequest, devise or descent together with the rents, issues and profits thereof. RCW 26.16.010.
Also when husband and wife living “separate and apart,” their respective earnings and accumulations are the separate property of each. RCW 26.16.140. Mere physical separation does not establish they were living “separate and apart” so as to negate the existence of the community. The test is whether the spouses by their conduct have exhibited a decision to renounce the community with no intention of ever resuming the marital relationship. A couple is living “separate and apart” for purposes of this statute only when the separation is permanent and the marriage is “defunct”. It is not necessary for the operation of RCW 26.16.140 that a dissolution action be filed.
In Washington, community property is all other property acquired by either spouse after marriage that is not separate property. RCW 26.16.030. Property acquired during marriage by either spouse is presumed to be community property. A gift to both spouses normally creates community property unless the donor expresses a different intention.
Agreement of the Spouses May Change Community Property to Separate Property
Absent a valid contract between the spouses declaring otherwise, all property acquired during marriage that is not otherwise defined as separate property by statute is community property. Spouses may by contractual agreement change their separate property into community or their community property into separate property. RCW 26.16.120. Creditors will not necessarily be bound by the spouses’ agreement to change the character of property.