Washington is a community property state. A marriage is viewed as a partnership, with each partner contributing to the marriage through their industry, and each possessing an equal right to the property of the partnership after its dissolution. Absent a valid prenuptial or separate property agreement stating otherwise, property acquired by individuals during a marriage, other than by gift, devise, descent or bequest is considered to be owned by the community regardless of the name on the title or pay check. Property brought into the marriage by one spouse is considered that person’s separate property. In a dissolution or legal separation, the Court makes a series of determinations when dividing property. First, the community or separate nature of the property is determined, next, the property is valued, finally, the court distributes the property. When distributing the property the Court seeks to make a just and equitable division, which is not necessarily an equal division. The award of property and the award of spousal maintenance are often intertwined, and marital misconduct does not impact either decision.
Although the Court has the authority to award the separate property of one spouse to the other, that is generally done in unusual situations where preserving the separate estate would result in an unjust property division. When determining a fair and equitable division of property the court considers but is not limited to the following factors: (1) the nature and extent of the community property; (2) the nature and extent of the separate property of each party; (3) the duration of the marriage; and (4) the economic circumstances of each spouse at the time the division of property is to become effective, including the desirability of awarding the family home, or the right to live there to the parent with whom the children reside the majority of the time. The most important concern in the division of property is the economic position in which it will leave each of the parties. The health, age, education, work history and employability of each party are considered when evaluating a party’s economic position.