Separate and Community Property in Divorce

Washington State is one of the nine community property states in the country. This means that, as a general rule, spouses will own an equal interest in any property acquired  during the marriage, even where only one spouse’s name is on the bank account, paycheck, or title. This distinction has a significant impact on the division of assets and debts in a divorce.

What is Community Property?

Generally, community property is everything that is acquired by either party during the course of a marriage. The key here is the use of “generally,” as certain exceptions apply, perhaps most commonly in the cases of gifts or inheritances that are transferred to one spouse from somebody else during the marriage. Community property can include real estate, tangible assets, the earnings of both spouses, interest earned on investments, capital gains, and even retirement benefits. This also means that debts either spouse accumulates during the marriage will generally be considered community debts to the court. Spouses share responsibility for community debts unless a court order or enforceable agreement determines otherwise.

What is Separate Property?

Separate property in general will be the funds, real estate, investments, gifts, inheritances, heirlooms, etc. that a spouse acquires before the marriage or after the date of separation. Separate property can become community property to the court if such property becomes so commingled with community property that the two can no longer be distinguished.

Division of Property:

While understanding the differences between community and separate property is the starting point for understanding how a court might divide a couple’s assets and debts, it is important to also know that the court examines each divorce on a case-by-case basis and will divide such assets and debts by what it deems to be just and equitable. In this context, “equitable” means fair, not a 50/50 split. The length of your marriage, your financial standing, parenting plan, etc. are all taken into account by the judge when dividing assets. Separate property held by each party will also be taken into account by the judge when making a determination of how things should be divided. If one spouse has a large amount of assets separately, it could mean that the other partner would receive more of the community assets in a divorce. Additional factors can also be taken into account when dividing assets, such as what each partner’s primary role has historically been in a marriage. If one parent has primarily been raising the children and the other has been the primary earner and been able to accrue more separate assets due to this, the court will likely recognize the reasoning behind this discrepancy and make its decision accordingly.

Divorces are inherently stressful and nobody wants to get shortchanged. This is just a brief and very general overview of how asset division works in the state of Washington. Each situation is unique and you are going to need some assistance navigating through your specific situation. At Elise Buie Family Law, our attorneys regularly speak on family law and parenting plan matters.  Elise has extensive experience in high-conflict parenting disputes.  If you have any questions about Washington state divorce law, mediation or child custody, please contact us at or 206-926-9848.


Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe to one or more of our newsletters, delivering meaningful insight on topics that matter to you and your family.


Latest Blog Posts

Death is a part of life. Like taxes, there's no avoiding it. Also, like taxes, you may not like thinking or talking about the subject. However, if you think about death and how to handle your remains from a planning…

Every child deserves love, stability, and consistency. Is there a child in your life that you have considered adopting, perhaps because they are the child of your spouse or a child you are fostering? Perhaps there is an adult in…

The thought of losing your home or its contents in a disaster is a scary thought. Loss of life, destruction of irreplaceable items such as home movies, photos, and heirlooms make it unconscionable. But as we know in life, sometimes…

Spoiler alert: If you’re doing everything around the house (or at work) because you’re living (working) with a bunch of incompetent fools, or so they’ve led you to believe they are, you’re being manipulated. So pervasive is this phenomenon, there’s…

If you've created an estate plan, you've already spent a good deal of time thinking about what will happen to you if you become sick, incapacitated, or die, including where you will go (literally) when you die. After all, you don't want your…

If you're 18 or older and live in Washington State, you can legally change your name to anything you want as long as you're not doing so to commit fraud. For example, if your goal is to change your name to evade…

Your estate plan should ensure your special needs child experiences the best quality of life they can, that the assets upon which they will rely will last as long as possible during their lifetime, and that their eligibility for public services will be maximized. Learn more.

Popular culture is using the moniker "America's daughter" to describe Gabby Petito because she could've been any of our daughters. Learn how to talk to your daughter about the signs of domestic abuse.

When a couple decides to divorce, and one spouse is unable to support themselves, spousal support becomes a hot-button issue. Learn how to mitigate conflict and move forward.

To date, 676,000 people in the US have died from COVID-19, many parents of minor children. Without a will there is no instruction on who should care for them. Make your wishes known, learn how.