Basics of Divorce in Washington State Part 2 of 3: Property Division

  • Published
  • By Jocelyn Sullivan
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Staff Judge Advocate
Divorce, or dissolution as it is known in Washington, can be a stressful time for a couple or a family. The Basics of Divorce series is meant to relieve some stress by providing general legal information for those considering a divorce in the state of Washington.

When a couple divorces, the Washington Court divides their assets and debts between the spouses. A couple's assets would include items like a house, cars and joint bank accounts. A couple's debts would include items like loans, mortgages and credit card debt.

The United States has two different ways of looking at the property that a couple acquires during a marriage: community property and separate property.

In a community property state, any property the couple acquires during the marriage belongs to both individuals in the marriage. Each couple owns one half of the property automatically. This means, for example, that a car purchased in one spouse's name automatically belongs to both spouses. The court divides the community property according to what is "just and equitable."  Washington is a community property state along with eight other states.

In a separate property state, a couple must choose to combine their property. This means, for example, if only one spouse's name is on the title then that spouse owns the car. If both spouses' names are on the title then both spouses own the property. The court initially divides the property according to who owns it, and then the court may decide to change the division to make it fair. For example, Oregon is a separate property state.

The court will consider if the marital property is community or separate when dividing up the property in a divorce. Other factors that the court will consider include: the length of the marriage; the financial position of each individual; entitlements to Social Security, military benefits or profit sharing plans; any special circumstances and agreements between the spouses.
Washington law does not require the use of an attorney for a divorce; however, an attorney's expertise is highly recommended, especially if large amounts of property are involved.

Although a judge advocate cannot appear in state court on your behalf, you can visit the base legal office for basic advice and more information regarding divorce, as well as, other legal issues.We are located in the Wing Headquarters building, Suite 121. Below are our office hours of operation and services provided:

· Wills for Active Duty Members and Dependents by appointment only: Every Wednesday
· Power of Attorney and Notaries:  Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
· Legal Assistance Walk-ins:  Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m.

The material in this article represents general legal principles. The law is continually changing. Although the information in this article was current as of the date it was drafted, some provisions may have changed. It is always best to consult an attorney about your legal rights and responsibilities regarding your particular case.

To make an appointment, call the Legal Office at 509-247-2838.