Washington State Divorce Laws: How Property Is Divided

Every day, there are 68 divorces in Washington State.

When going through this process, there are Washington State divorce laws keep track of. Between children, pets, houses, cars, and bank accounts—it can be difficult to determine how everything gets divided.

To make matters worse, Washington State divorce laws are not always straightforward regarding what each spouse will walk away with. Ultimately, it varies by the case.

But there are some resources to get a better idea of what you might be walking into with divorce proceedings in Washington. With this information, you can be more informed and hopefully make the entire process run a little smoother.

Keep reading for more information on Washington State divorce laws with respect to property and homeownership.

Washington State Divorce Laws Concerning Property

Washington State’s laws surrounding property and assets following a divorce get complicated. They vary greatly based on the circumstances of the divorce. 

It’s important to note that Washington is a “no-fault” state. This means that the courts are not interested in determining which spouse was at fault in the divorce. Instead, just one (or both) spouses must insist the marriage has broken beyond repair.

Additionally, Washington is a “community property” state. This requires all property acquired in the duration of the marriage to be presumed property of both spouses. 

There are exceptions for things like inheritances or gifts. Otherwise, property acquired during the marriage is under consideration as owned by both spouses. This same policy applies to debts acquired, as well.

With this in mind, you may be asking—is Washington State a 50/50 divorce state? In fact, it is not. Rather, Washington State is a “fair and equitable” state.

This may result in a 50/50 split in the right circumstances. But generally speaking, property and liabilities divide between the divorcing parties in a fair and equitable manner. 

Marital Property

Under state law, there are at least seven categories of marital property:

  1. Assets acquired during the marriage (individually by each party or jointly)
  2. Enhancement or appreciation in the value of non-marital assets resulting from the efforts of either spouse or expenditures of marital funds
  3. Payment of a mortgage for non-marital real estate, and a portion of any property appreciation—given payment was made with marital funds
  4. Inter-spousal gifts
  5. Benefits, rights, and funds gained during the marriage from accounts like retirement, pension, insurance plans, etc.
  6. Real estate held jointly as tenants by the entireties (acquired before or during the marriage)
  7. Individual property titled jointly as tenants by entireties (acquired before or during the marriage)

This technical language can grow even more complicated when actually put into practice.

Non-Marital Property

On the other hand, Washington state law holds at least six categories of non-marital property. These include:

  1. Assets acquired before the marriage
  2. Vehicles acquired before the marriage
  3. Assets acquired separately in the form of non-interspousal gift or inheritance (before or during the marriage)
  4. Income stemming from non-marital assets during the marriage—unless the income was typically used or relied on as marital funds
  5. Assets excluded with a valid written agreement signed by both parties
  6. Liability incurred by forgery or otherwise unauthorized signing the name of the other party

It’s also important to note that marital and non-marital property does not just apply to assets. The same rules apply to debts—including mortgages, credit card debt, medical bills, and other monies owed.

Debts are subject to marital distribution during a divorce, just the same as assets.

Important Factors in Dividing Property

With all of these considerations, the actual divorce cases and the ensuing division of assets can grow very complicated. Read on to answer—how is property divided in a divorce in Washington State?

When There Is an Enforceable Agreement

Enforceable agreements are upheld by the judge in most cases. These agreements require the consent of both parties and can take many forms. 

Examples include:

  • Prenuptial agreements
  • Post-nuptial agreement (a prenup signed during the marriage)
  • Separation contracts (a contract signed during an informal breakup)
  • Settlement agreements (an agreement made on court record or signed during divorce proceedings)

Within these documents, there is likely a pre-arranged agreement on the division of assets in the event of dissolution of marriage. As both parties have already signed off on this agreement, it’s easy for the court to simply follow those terms.

Though these are legally binding contracts, the judge can throw them out in limited circumstances. 

When One Party Has Separate Property

In most divorces, each spouse can keep their own separate property. Community property is then divided 50/50—unless there are other factors that would make this split unfair. Again, this is to maintain a fair and equitable distribution of assets.

When Property Is Partly Separate, Partly Community

Many times, family ones are partly separate property and partly community property. One example of this situation is where the down payment came from one spouse’s personal funds. But the mortgage remains community debt.

In cases like this, the spouse with their own property interest is more likely to be granted the house in the divorce. But, this is not set in stone. Again, Washington is a fair and equitable state—meaning all of these guidelines are subject to change based on the case.

When One Party Cannot Afford Property

Courts tend to avoid granting the house to one party if they are unable to afford it.

In most divorces, the mortgage is in both parties’ names, and a default would hurt both respective credit scores. The spouse with the lower income usually receives child support and/or spousal support (alimony).

But in short-term marriages where child and/or spousal support is not required, the higher-earning spouse typically keeps the house. A notable exception to this would be if the house was the other party’s separate property.

When Business Is Involved

Awarding property grows more complicated when one party runs a business that is inextricably linked to the house. This might be a daycare service or an adult-care facility within the confines of the home. In these cases, this spouse is more likely to be awarded both the house and the business.

When Kids Are Involved

When dependent children are involved in the divorce, the court often tries to keep them in the family home they grew up in. In this situation, the spouse who receives primary custody of the kids is more likely to be granted the home, as well.

This is done to attempt to keep life disruptions as low as possible for the children involved.

The court also tries to prevent overall disruptions to the divorcing spouses, as well. If one party has already moved out and the other remains settled in the home—they are more likely to receive it to prevent further relocation.

What’s Next?

Most of the time, divorce courts in Washington will avoid forcing the sale of a home. They will try to locate the most fair and equitable way to determine which party is granted the house.

But realistically, this does not always work out as planned. For a variety of reasons, one spouse may not be able to hold on to the home. It may be better to sell the house and divide up the money than to come to some other agreement. 

But after a lengthy divorce process, going through the real estate process might seem even more taxing. Between the realtors, lenders, appraisers, inspectors, and all of the other middlemen involved, it can add even more stress to the situation.

Instead, make it simple. Selling your home for cash ensures a quick and easy process—without all the middlemen. This way, you can wash your hands of the entire situation much faster.

You do not have to stress over the process of fixing up, staging, and listing the home. Plus, you do not have to worry about realtor’s commissions.

In Washington State, Kind House Buyers are here to take the weight of selling a home after divorce off your shoulders.

Turning to the Experts

Washington State divorce laws can be stressful enough. Don’t let the pressures of determining what to do with a house continue to weigh you down.

Instead, look for a trusted partner to purchase your home for cash. This makes the whole process simple, with no need for the time and money required by the traditional real estate market. 

When it comes to buying homes for cash in Washington State, look no further. We’ll work closely with you to buy burdensome houses quickly, without the costs of the middleman.

During an already difficult time, the process of selling your home doesn’t have to be. Get a cash offer for your house today!

If you want to sell your house as-is as quickly as possible and get cash, give us a call anytime at (253) 216-2497 or fill out the form below today!

Keith Sant

Keith is a blogger, entrepreneur, and real estate investor who truly enjoys helping others. He grew up in Washington where he graduated from UW with degrees in Marketing and economics. Besides flipping houses, Keith enjoys snacks, cycling, and hiking the Pacific Northwest with his fiancee Amanda and their boxer Tuna.

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