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Failure to Identify Property for Distribution Before Washington Divorce Trial

In any divorce, it is important for the parties to identify all of the assets they want to be considered and divided.  While all of the property is before the court for distribution in a divorce, the court can only distribute those assets of which it is aware.  If the parties fail to follow the appropriate procedures to timely identify property, the court may exclude evidence of that property.

woodA Washington appeals court recently reviewed a case in which the trial court had excluded certain property that had not been included in the property worksheets the parties submitted before trial.

The parties each submitted property worksheets with their trial briefs before trial.  At trial, the wife testified about property that was not included on the property worksheets.  The husband objected to this testimony, but the objections were generally overruled.

The wife was asked about her individual retirement account (IRA) on cross-examination.  She said the IRA was worth $5,000.  When asked why it was not included in her worksheet, she testified that there were numerous items that had not been included on her worksheet and implied those items had already been divided and “equalized out.”

The trial court ultimately determined the value of the assets and distributed them equitably.  The court denied the wife’s request for maintenance.  The wife moved for reconsideration, arguing the trial court erred in excluding property that had not been included on the worksheets.  She argued alternatively that, if items not on the worksheets were properly excluded, the evidence regarding her IRA should not have been considered.  The trial court entered a thorough response and order, explaining that it allowed evidence of items that had not been included on the worksheets, but it had not given the wife credit for the items because she had not shown their value.  The wife appealed.

The appeals court noted that the trial court has broad discretion in distributing property, and all of the property is before the court for distribution.

The wife argued the court erred in excluding evidence regarding $20,000 from the sale of tractor-trailers, $2,500 of firewood, a steel guardrail, guns, ammunition, corral panels, and other property that was not discussed because the court had consistently denied the admission of such evidence.

The appeals court found the trial court had not been persuaded that the funds from the tractor sales had been converted to the husband’s personal use.  The trial court had refused to divide the alleged proceeds because they were used by the community.  The appeals court found substantial evidence supporting the trial court’s findings.

The wife had testified regarding firewood, but the court did not include it in the property award because the wife failed to testify as to its value.

The trial court had allowed some testimony regarding the steel guardrail but sustained an objection to additional testimony.  The trial court found no documentary evidence regarding the guardrail, which was not included in the worksheets.  The appeals court found no abuse of discretion here, when the court had excused other nondisclosure of items.

Although the wife began testifying regarding the husband’s guns, her attorney withdrew the question when the husband objected.  The trial court had not made a ruling, so the appeals court did not review the issue.

The wife also argued that she did not testify about other items that were not listed on the worksheets because of the trial court’s refusal to let her testify about unlisted items.  The appeals court found that she had ample time to decide what to include on her worksheet.  The trial court allowing any testimony of unlisted items was contrary to the local rule.  The wife made no argument that the rule was improper.  The appeals court found that the trial court would have been within its authority to keep the wife from testifying about unlisted items altogether.

The wife also argued the court was inconsistent when it allowed evidence of her IRA while excluding evidence of unlisted property she wanted to raise.  The appeals court found the wife had not objected to the questions regarding the IRA.  The appeals court further found that the trial court was consistent because it allowed the discussion of unlisted property when there was sufficient evidence of the property’s existence and its value.  The wife had testified to the existence and value of the IRA.

The appeals court found no error in the trial court’s property distribution and affirmed.

Our Washington property division attorneys understand the importance of identifying all of the assets before the trial.  We can work with you to identify the property that needs to be divided and prevent it from being excluded from consideration.  If you are facing a divorce, call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 or contact us online to discuss your case.

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 Image: FreeImages.com / Martin Gebala