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Division of Property

One of the most important consequences of a divorce is that all of the property owned by the parties must be accounted for and divided up by the parties in a settlement agreement or by the court in an order. In fact, RCW 26.09.050 requires the court to make provision for the disposition of property and liabilities of the parties when entering a decree of dissolution of marriage.

Especially when considerable assets have been accumulated during a divorce, the division of property becomes one of the most important parts of the case. For high income and net worth cases, one or both parties might retain a forensic accountant who can help them determine the best way to value the assets and divide them while taking into account the tax consequences and long-term estate planning goals.

Attorney for Property Divisions in Seattle, WA

It is impossible for the parties to reach a fair settlement or for the court to perform its statutorily mandated duties if they are unaware of the nature and extent of the property.

For this reason, the job of the divorce lawyer in Seattle, WA, is to make sure that all documents and evidence from the other side is gathered to identify any assets, especially when one spouse is trying to hide assets from the other.

Our attorneys are experienced in divorce cases throughout Seattle and Kent in King County and in Everett in Snohomish County. If you would like to speak to an experienced Seattle Divorce Attorney at Law Offices of Shana E. Thompson, then contact us.

Call (206) 712-2756 to schedule an initial consultation.


Factors Used by the Court to Divide Property

The court's division of property and debt is controlled by RCW 26.09.080 which provides that in a dissolution of the marriage, the court shall, without regard to misconduct, make such disposition of the property and the liabilities of the parties, either community or separate, as shall appear just and equitable after considering all relevant factors including, but not limited to:

  1. The nature and extent of the community property;
  2. The nature and extent of the separate property;
  3. The duration of the marriage or domestic partnership; and
  4. The economic circumstances of each spouse or domestic partner at the time the division of 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 or domestic partner with whom the children reside the majority of the time.

Property Settlement Agreements in Washington

RCW 26.09.070 permits the parties to enter into property settlement agreements. The parties to a marriage after filing a petition for dissolution of their marriage are permitted to enter into a written separation contract providing for the disposition of any property owned by both or either of them.

If either or both of the parties to a separation contract shall at the time of the execution thereof, or at a subsequent time, petition the court for dissolution of their marriage, the contract shall be binding upon the court unless it finds, after considering the economic circumstances of the parties and any other relevant evidence produced by the parties on their own motion or on request of the court, that the separation contract was unfair at the time of its execution.

Retirement accounts are divided using a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) so as to avoid any adverse tax consequences of withdrawing money from the retirement account.


Fair Distribution Requires Adequate Identification of the Assets

The marital dissolution statutes in Washington State promote a just, equitable, and fair allocation of property between the parties regardless of any agreement earlier reached. In fact, the statutes direct the dissolution court to ensure a fair distribution.

A dissolution court cannot decree a fair allocation of assets and debts without the court gaining a thorough understanding of the parties' property and liabilities. For this reason, a settlement agreement or decree of dissolution must adequately identify the assets so as to permit the court to approve the agreement or make a proper division. At a minimum, the documents must put the parties and the court on notice that the assets exist.


The Division of Bills and Debts in a Divorce

When the marriage is dissolved, all bills, debts, and liabilities must also be divided. The courts give consideration to the type of debts accrued and the circumstances under which it arose. The courts also considered the factors influencing the property division when dividing obligations. Most credit and charge account agreements provide for joint liability for any charges added to joint accounts. For this reason, creditors should be instructed (in writing) to remove your name from or close all joint accounts.

Debts that incurred during the marriage and divided during a divorce can include credit cards, mortgages, an equity line of credit, car loans, collection accounts, and medical bills.


Property Not Distributed by the Divorce Decree

Community property not disposed of in a dissolution is owned thereafter by the former spouses as tenants in common. This rule applies when the court did not exercise its jurisdiction over the property when deciding the issues in the divorce.

If the property rights of the parties are not brought before the court in some manner, such rights are not and cannot be affected by the decree. The undistributed property becomes subject to partition or other appropriate declaratory relief or a post-decree modification action in extreme cases.


Jurisdiction to Decide Property Issues in Washington

Any proceeding for support or maintenance in the State of Washington requires “in personam" jurisdiction over the person that will be required to pay. Without “in personam” jurisdiction the order is void. Without “in personam” jurisdiction, the court can still dissolve the marriage but would not be permitted to divide property.


This article was last updated on Tuesday, March 16, 2021.