The term "property" used in the family law context refers to real estate (real property), personal possessions (including pets), bank and retirement accounts, business and contract rights. The division of property between spouses is based on its characterization as community or separate property.
Washington is a community property state. Both spouses are treated as being equal business partners. Under the community property theory, all property acquired during marriage is presumed to be community property, with both spouses having equal rights as co-owners of everything earned or acquired during marriage - both assets and liabilities.
Separate property means that property that is owned prior to marriage, or received during the marriage as a gift or inheritance, personal injury award, and certain other exceptions. It is not divided in the dissolution because it is not community property.
In ending the marriage in a community property state, the parties are entitled to half of everything that is co-owned. In practice, this rule is not hard and fast. The court first characterizes what is community property and separate property, then divides the property and debts between the spouses in a manner that is "just and equitable." Note that the term "equitable" does not mean equally, and "just" does not necessarily mean "fair."
Characterizing community and separate property can be complicated by a prenuptial agreement, claims of reimbursement, breaches of fiduciary duty, or when separate property changes from its original form. It is important to review all assets and liabilities, and trace when they were acquired and by whom.
WHAT I CAN DO.
The court does not necessarily divide everything 50/50. The characterization and valuation of property is complicated, and can make the division of assets and debts protracted and litigious. I have experience in dealing with all manners of property division. I work closely with forensic accountants, business and real estate appraisers, and financial planners to assess community and separate property to ensure the proper characterization of property, determine property value, and the tax implications of your choices. I will work to protect your financial interests and guide you toward the most advantageous property and debt division and structure the optimal outcome to meet your goals.