Divorce Issues: Division of Property and Debts
In Washington State, all property acquired during the marriage is generally deemed community property and must be divided equally at divorce. This includes real estate, spouse’s earnings, pension benefits and 401(k) contributions.
Similarly, all debts incurred during the marriage are considered community debts and responsibility of paying them are again shared equally by both spouses.
How does the court determine division of property and debts?
Washington Courts will not necessarily divide the property equally among divorcing spouses. The following factors will be considered in determining division of property:
- Type and value of community property
The marital home is often the most valuable community property in question. The court will likely award the family home to the residential parent or the parent with whom the child will be living.
- Type and value of separate property
Separate property is property acquired before marriage, or property received during the marriage as inheritance or a gift, or obtained under other special circumstances.
- Length of the marriage
In short-term (usually below five years) and childless marriages, the court may order the spouses to return to the financial condition that they had before the marriage.
- Financial condition of the spouses when the divorce is finalized
The court will consider the financial situation of both spouses after the divorce. In general, the court will not want one spouse to be very wealthy and the other very poor. It also considers that if one spouse is disabled or has not had the chance to work outside the home, the court will likely award more of the community property to him/her.
What if my spouse does not pay the debts that the court has ordered him/her to pay?
Even if the court assigns the particular debts, which you and your spouse need to pay, it is very possible that your spouse may not follow this. The company or persons to whom you owe the debts may still come after you and you may be forced to pay for them. In this case, you may sue your spouse so that the court can order him/her to pay you back.