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Dividing Property

Written by Wolfgang R. Anderson

Attorney at Law

Anderson, Fields, Dermody & McIlwain

Generally: What Happens To Property

Foremost on everyone’s mind is “how does a court divide our estate?” The bottom line is it’s all a matter of economics, which entails providing the disadvantaged spouse more than one-half, generally 55%, of the total net worth (asset value less what’s owed) of the estate.

Dividing property constitutes one of the least understood yet simple processes in dissolving a marriage. Washington is commonly known as a community property state. Many people think they know what this means but they don’t.

The basic premise of community property in a dissolution is to place litigants in equality considering (a) their overall earnings and capacity, (b) their separate property, (c) their age, and (d) their health. “Equal” can therefore equate to unequal.

Many laypersons harbor misconceptions about the meaning of the very word “property.” One should not be surprised to learn that “property” includes far more than tangible “items” a person can touch, see and feel. Property includes “interests in” things and “rights in” contracts, pensions vested or not, stock options and awards, etc.

Generally, property is defined as something of exchangeable value. “Value” (what something is worth) is the crux of the argument. Lawyers and judges often disagree about the worth of an “interest” or “right.” It doesn’t help that the property division in a dissolution is based on justice and equity (left undefined).

As an example, disagreements oft arise over expectancies, such as inheritances. A living person has no heirs; consequently future inheritances are not before the court unless they have not matured. Ergo they are not assets subject to division.