Who Gets the House in a Divorce in Washington State?
A common question that arises in divorce is “Who gets the house?”
Houses are generally the biggest property asset in divorce and often, the asset which holds the most sentimental value to both you and your spouse.
The division of your house is subject to Washington state’s property division statutes. When the breakdown of a committed intimate relationships or marriage occurs, courts rarely find that a home is entirely one party’s separate property if it was purchased during the relationship.
Houses can be deemed partially separate property and partially community property. If a portion of the house is deemed separate property, it is usually because the down payment on the house was paid by one spouse from their separate funds. The community property portion usually results in a 50/50 split. Similarly, if a mortgage is owed on the house, it may be divided as community debt.
Putting a Value on Your Home
In a contested case where the home is a litigated matter, you will first need to determine what your home’s value is. Completing this step early in the process also makes you a prepared litigant. Three common methods for determining real property value include obtaining:
- A real estate appraisal (where an appraisal is hired for a home evaluation to determine its current value based on several factors). A real estate appraisal is the most reliable method of valuating a home. If the case proceeds to trial, the appraiser can be called as a witness to back up their figures.
- Tax assessed value (assessed value of a home is a yearly estimation of your home’s worth, determined by your tax district’s municipal property assessor)- which is similar to show the fair market value of the home. These rarely reflect the market value.
- Hiring a realtor to determine the potential sale price on the current real estate market.
- Averaging of the price listed on sites like Zillow and Redfin. This may work with newer homes. However, Zillow will not know if your home needs a new roof or if you’ve renovated, both of which could impact a final sale price.
Second, once the value is determined- you will have to determine how you & your spouse will divide the home. Washington courts have traditionally been reluctant to force a sale of real estate, but will order a house sale in cases where there was a written agreement or if there’s not another alternative for division of the spouse’s net community property.
There are a few methods of how to accomplish the division of your home, however the division methods ultimately depend on the circumstances of your case.
Every Case Yields a Different Outcome
More often than not only one person wants to stay and the other is comfortable moving. However, if both people want to keep the home it’s difficult to say what a court will decide. We can tell you of a few scenarios that generally predict who will be awarded the house.
- Courts favor keeping the primary parent in the house with the children, because it offers stability and consistency for the children involved.
- When one party remains in the house while the other party moves out, the remaining spouse has a higher likelihood of receiving the house. This does not mean the moving spouse losing their “financial interest” in the home. They would still be paid their share of equity in an overall settlement. Also, this is not the case if one party cannot afford the upkeep of the house after child support and/or spousal support is granted to them. Unless the home is the lesser-earning spouse’s separate property (for example- a gift or inheritance), courts are disinclined to grant homes to parties who cannot afford them which results in the higher earning spouse being awarded the house.
- If there is a business or care facility that is indistinguishably connected to the house, such that the house is one spouse’s place of business or where one spouse formally renders adult/child care, that spouse is more likely to be awarded the house as to not disrupt their livelihood.
- The Court will adopt a written agreement that includes the parties’ decision of who will remain in the house, unless the Court finds the agreement was unfair at the time of its execution.