Washington is one of nine community property states in the U.S. This means that in a divorce, marital assets and debts are generally divided 50/50 between the spouses. In special circumstances, however, courts have the discretion to depart from equal division. One noteworthy basis for making an exception is the existence of spousal abuse and other forms of domestic violence.
Although Washington law does not consider misconduct of the spouses during the marriage as grounds for divorce, a court may find that abusive behavior has affected the spouses’ economic circumstances. This may result because domestic violence is recognized as a pattern of controlling behavior, which can take the form of one spouse monopolizing the couple’s financial affairs. The other spouse may have had no control over or even a basic knowledge of the couple’s income, assets and debts.
When determining how to distribute property in the face of evidence of spousal abuse or other domestic violence, a judge may consider such factors as:
- Impact on past, present, and potential earning ability — An abused spouse may have been isolated during the marriage and have become physically or mentally unable to obtain and hold gainful employment. Additional funds will likely be needed to put that spouse in a viable position to become self-sustaining.
- Medical expenses resulting from physical or mental trauma — Courts may also consider the medical needs of a spouse who developed chronic health problems as a result of domestic violence during the marriage.
- Assets dissipated or debts incurred without the abused spouse’s knowledge or participation — A spouse’s misconduct, such as substance abuse, gambling or extramarital affairs, may cause the loss of assets and the accumulation of debt. The court may adjust the division of assets and debts to achieve equity for the victimized spouse.
The court’s goals in making these adjustments are to provide restitution to — and to promote the independence of — the spouse who has been economically disadvantaged by the other spouse’s misbehavior that affected the couple’s finances.
Divorce proceedings are stressful under any circumstances but may become especially traumatic when domestic violence is involved. To make sure that you attain your rightful share of assets in the community property distribution process, it is critical to have the assistance of an experienced family law attorney.
If you are contemplating or going through a divorce, the legal team at Bottimore & Associates, P.L.L.C. in Tacoma is ready to advise you. Schedule a consultation by calling 253-272-5653 or contacting us online.