Community Property Law in Washington State
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I live in Washington State; Does it Have Any Community Property Laws?
Yes. Washington along with Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada, Louisiana, Texas, California, and New Mexico, all have Community Property laws.
What Does Community Property Mean?
If a couple gets married, the property they amass before and during the marriage is either classified as community property or separate property. Generally speaking, community property is all the stuff the couple jointly amassed during the marriage. The legal premise is that both individuals have equal shares in the aggregate of their assets.
Washington law starts with the assumption that property owned by the couple is community property. If one spouse claims the property should be classified as separate property, they must first prove it is not community property in order to change the law’s default assumption.
Property owned only by one spouse is classified as separate property. This classification encompasses all property acquired prior to marriage, property received as personal gifts or inheritance during marriage, and property awarded by recovery for an injury to the individual. However, in order for your separate property to retain its designation, you must produce evidence tracking the acquisition. If your separate property commingled with the jointly owned community property, the court could combine the properties and label the sum community property.
What is Quasi-Community Property?
Washington is one of a limited number of states (which includes Arizona, California and New Mexico) that also recognizes the category of property called quasi-community property. Quasi-community property is very specific and includes all property that is not community property and that was:
- Property acquired while domiciled elsewhere that would have been community property had that person been living in Washington at the time of the acquisition
- i.e. if X was purchased while living in Oregon (non-community property state), that would have been considered community property had it been purchased while living in Washington
- property exchanged for the original property that would have been community property had the person been living in Washington at the time the original property was acquired
- i.e. if Y was exchanged for quasi-community property X, Y would still be considered quasi-community property
Can Community Property Become My Own Separate Property?
Community property can become separate property if given as a gift or sold. In addition, spouses can chose to separate the property by using partitions or exchanges either prior to or during the marriage.
Can My Washington Separate Property Become Community Property?
Yes, separate property can be converted into community property if there is a clear expression by both spouses or partners that they both intend for the sole property to become community property. Also, as mentioned above, if your separate property commingles with the jointly owned community property, or if both spouses can exercise control over the separate property, the judge could classify the property as community property instead of separate property.
Does Living in a Community Property State Like Washington Mean our Community Property will Automatically be Divided 50-50?
No. Although a 50-50 divide might be the practice in some states, that’s not how the law is interpreted in Washington. Instead, according to the state code, the division must be “just and equitable.” The code lists 4 factors for the courts to consider when deciding how to divide the assets, which include:
- The nature and extent of the community property
- The nature and extent of the separate property
- The duration of the marriage, and
- 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." (Revised Code Of Washington 26.09.080)
Do I Need a Washington Lawyer?
As illustrated above, the nature of community property law in Washington is quite complex. If you are undergoing a divorce in Washington State, a knowledgeable attorney can assist you in classifying your property. If you think your separate property was erroneously labeled as community property or quasi-community property, contact an attorney to assure that your property rights are defended.
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Last Modified: 10-16-2012 11:04 AM PDT
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