Whenever I have a divorce client one of the first questions I get is: “I get half of everything right?” Washington is a community property state but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a 50/50 state, surprise!
There are only 9 community property states: Louisiana, Arizona, California, Texas, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. That’s right only 9, so that leaves you 41 other states to get divorced in if you are planning circumvent the community property laws. So what exactly does community property state mean? Basically it means that anything you earn (or your spouse earns) is community money, same goes for any property bought with those earnings, it belongs to the community, i.e. both of you. Same goes for debt, it belongs to both of you.
So how does this work in Washington? Well as I mentioned Washington does not automatically divide property 50/50 (California is the only state that does that). Washington’s law on community property is what is “just and equitable.” And “just and equitable” can mean a lot of things, including 50/50 but not necessarily so. There are 4 factors the courts consider when deciding how to divide assets: “1. The nature and extent of the community property; 2. The nature and extent of the separate property; 3. The duration of the marriage; and 4. The economic circumstances of each spouse at the time the division of the property is to become effective, including the desirability of awarding the family home or the right to live therein for reasonable periods to a spouse with whom the children reside the majority of the time.” As you can see these factors can sway the division of property away from 50/50.
Now community property laws are more complicated that this so you definitely want to consult an attorney if you have questions. But at least now you know that you cannot count on getting half.