There is quite a lot of jargon in the legal system, in the family law system is no exception to that rule. Many people feel overwhelmed with the sheer volume of new terms and concepts they have to consider when wading into a family law matter, such as a potential divorce. 

Community property is a common term used to refer to the assets and debts acquired by a married couple during their marriage. Washington is among a minority of states that currently uses the community property standard in the asset division process for contested divorces. 

If you and your spouse can’t agree on terms before you file and you never signed a prenuptial agreement, you will likely have contested divorce proceedings where the courts make the major decisions. Once you understand what constitutes community property, you can better strategize for how to handle your divorce and adjust your expectations regarding the outcome.

Community property involves joint marital ownership

When the courts say that something is community property, what they mean is that both spouses have a shared interest in that asset or debt. People may find this confusing, particularly in scenarios where one spouse earns substantially more than the other or where many of the assets for the household get held in only one person’s name. 

Regardless of whose name is on the account, the debts and assets you gain throughout the marriage belong to both spouses. Certain assets and debts will be separate property in a Washington divorce. Anything owned or accrued prior to the marriage, as well as items designated as separate property in a prenuptial agreement, and inheritances or gifts will typically remain separate property owned by only one spouse. 

Most everything else, from the house you lived in to the mortgage that funds the property, will likely be community property subject to division. Naturally, the status of some assets may not be clear, so discuss your specific situation with an attorney.