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Division of community property between couples

The division of assets and liabilities between a couple are often the most contentious issues at the time of legal separation or divorce. Washington is a community property state, which means that the property that the couple shares will be divided equitably between them in the event that they divorce. Property that was acquired by either spouse or partner after the marriage or domestic partnership is usually treated as community property. According to the laws, each partner or spouse is considered to have an equal interest in the property that they share, which means that each spouse owns half of the community property.

Community property can be managed and controlled by either spouse or domestic partner acting alone, with certain restrictions. No spouse or partner can part with the community property without the permission of the other spouse or partner. Only half of the community property can be willed by a spouse or partner upon that person's death. Each spouse or partner must get the consent of the other spouse or partner before selling, blocking or transferring the community property in any way.

Properties that were acquired by either spouse or partner before the marriage or domestic partnership, or acquired later as a gift or inheritance, are considered separate property. Separate property does not fall under the same rules and the owner can do with it whatever that person wishes. It can be sold, leased and transferred in any manner.

If a couple wishes to avoid being subject to state laws as far as how the assets are concerned in the event of a divorce or legal separation, the spouses may enter into a prenuptial, postnuptial or separation agreement. Those agreements outline mutually agreed upon terms and conditions about how the assets and liabilities will be divided between the couple if they choose to separate. Those agreements are usually enforced by the court during the divorce or separation proceedings.

Source: Leg.wa.gov, "Community property defined - Management and control," Accessed on June 5, 2015

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