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Property Divided Upon Dissolution

As part of the dissolution of marriage process in Washington, according to RCW 26.09.080 “the court shall, without regard to misconduct, make such disposition of the property and the liabilities of the parties, either community or separate, as shall appear just and equitable after considering all relevant factors…” Prior to dividing property and liabilities, the court must identify what property exists.  For the most part, it is the job of the parties and their lawyers to show the court what property needs to be divided.  At times, the identification of property can be difficult.  (It should be noted, while the courts will divide property if asked to do so, it is also an option for most couples to divide their own assets and liabilities without court intervention.)  Below, we provide a few examples of property that is sometimes overlooked during the dissolution of marriage process.

  1. Intellectual Property. Intellectual property may not be (though sometimes is) something you can hold, but it is a (often very valuable) piece of property. Intellectual property often comes in the form of a right to use, distribute, license, etc., a trademark, copyright, and/or patent. If during the marriage a spouse invents a new product, process, machine, etc., or creates a work of art (book, sculpture, painting, drawing, etc.) these items should be divided as part of the dissolution process. These types of property will likely need to be valued prior to being divided.  It is sometimes necessary to hire an expert to help put a value on these (sometimes complicated) pieces of property.
  2. Family Photographs and Videos. Though of little (or no) economic value, people often prize their family photographs and videos more than their jewelry, vehicles, and even their house. Despite their importance to one or both spouses, family photographs are often not thought about when other property of the marriage is being divided. Sometimes, this is an issue that has to be addressed during post-dissolution litigation.  To avoid such a result, address the division of family photos during the dissolution process (sometimes it can be as simple as making digital copies for the other spouse).
  3. Family Pets. To most people family pets feel more like family than property, but under the law, they will be treated more like property.  The court may take into consideration which spouse has a closer emotional attachment to the animal, but may not.  In order to avoid additional litigation and stress it is best to deal with how the family pets will be cared for during the dissolution process.
  4. Artwork. Artwork hanging in a family home often has sentimental and aesthetic value to its owners. It also has a market value. This market value often needs to be determined during the dissolution process, so that a couple can decide to either sell the artwork and split the proceeds or they can apportion that value to one spouse or the other.  It is often necessary to hire a professional to determine the value of artwork.

When a marriage is dissolved, all property should be divided. Before property can be divided, it must be identified. Take the time necessary to identify the various types of property you have. Make sure your lawyer is aware of the various types of property you and your spouse have. If you would like to speak with a family law attorney in the Seattle area about your various property types to be divided upon dissolution or any other family law issue, please contact us.