Community Property and Separate Property
Community property (RCW 26.16) is assets or liabilities owned by marital partners in undivided one-half shares that derives from the labor of either marital partner, or interest upon or increase in value of such assets or liabilities previously acquired. Community property is generally acquired by the employment of one or both marital partners during the term of marriage.
Separate property is assets or liabilities owned by a person that derives from that person’s labor, or interest upon or increase in value of such assets or liabilities previously acquired. Separate property is generally acquired by the employment of a person before or after marriage, by inheritance, by gift, or by personal injury award for pain and suffering. Household Finance Corp. v. Smith, 70 Wn.2d 401, 403, 423 P.2d 621, 622 (1967).
Between marital partners, the court presumes that property either owns is community property, unless satisfactory evidence is presented that an asset or liability is separate property. Separate property may become community property by failure to maintain records, by commingling the funds, by gifting to the community, or by making an agreement to change the character of an asset or liability from separate to community (RCW 26. 16.120).
With respect to community assets or liabilities, neither spouse may give by means of that spouse’s Will more than one-half of the community property, donate more than one-half during life, transfer real property or take a mortgage on it, or take a loan on the good will of a business without the express consent of the other spouse. RCW 26.16.030.
The subtleties of community property law are legend, its exceptions a dark forest from which inquisitive lawyers seldom emerge.