As a divorce lawyer, I often see clients who believe that divorce means dividing everything "down the middle" (50-50). Or, splitting the community property down the middle. (Washington is a community property state, after all! Right?) They typically wonder what could possibly be more appropriate than being treated exactly equally?
Initially, I want to address two common misconceptions. First, contrary to popular belief, Washington divorce law does not require or even suggest splitting property down the middle. Second, Washington divorce law also does not restrict what can be divided in divorce to community property only. Washington divorce law says that all property must be addressed (including separate property) and that all property can be divided on divorce. Yes, in divorce separate property can be divided, and commonly is divided in Washington. And, property should be divided in a "just and equitable" manner considering all circumstances.
As a Collaborative Divorce lawyer and mediator, the standard used by in Washington State by the court for dividing property is useful because it can be applied in reaching agreements. All that matters in reaching an agreement is what is truly agreeable to everyone after considering what might impact the decision. Instead of asking a judge to use his or her discretion in determining what might be "just and equitable," in reaching an agreement in Collaborative Divorce or mediation, we can ask each party to independently apply that discretion for himself or herself based on his/her own considerations.
For some, dividing property and debt equally may in fact just fine. However, doing so typically assumes either that both spouses are equally situated and have equal opportunities in life, or that there should be some limit in terms of responsibilities for the other. The reality is that many spouses do not leave marriages the way they entered; both spouses make choices based on expectations of the future. Such choices might relate to matters such as careers, child rearing, lifestyle, and allocation of responsibilities during marriage. Those, and other considerations including cash flow and future expenses, might factor into deciding how best to divide property in divorce.
Ultimately, a divorce is different from other types of transactions. Unlike market-place transactions, the choices made during divorce have an impact on important future relationships and on others--with each other, with children, with in-laws, with mutual friends, with future partners. The decisions can even have an impact on one's own future emotional well-being. The more integrity that all can bring to the process, and the more carefully the decisions are thought out, the better all are likely to be.
The Collaborative Divorce process is particularly well-suited to helping work through matters with a high degree of integrity. For more information about Collaborative Divorce, see here: Collaborative Divorce Information