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Disproportionate Award of Assets in a Divorce

Posted on July 05, 2024 03:01pm
Disproportionate Award of Assets in a Divorce

Divorce is a complex emotional and financial undertaking. One of the most contested aspects of divorce settlements involves dividing marital assets. While a 50/50 split might seem fair on the surface, there are situations where a judge may award assets disproportionately to one spouse.

What Is a Disproportionate Asset Division?

Washington state is a community property state, which divides marital assets equitably between the parties. Equitable does not necessarily mean an equal, or 50/50 division. In some cases, the court may award a larger share of the marital estate to one spouse for the division of property to be just and equitable.

When Does Disproportionate Asset Division Happen?

There's no one-size-fits-all answer, but courts consider several factors before awarding assets disproportionately. Here are some common reasons:

Dissipation of marital assets. One scenario where one spouse might end up with a larger share – wasteful dissipation. This occurs when a spouse spends or disposes of marital funds irresponsibly during the separation or shortly before filing for divorce. We're not talking about everyday purchases here. Wasteful dissipation involves excessive spending on luxuries, gambling binges, or funding an extramarital affair. It's essentially squandering marital assets with no regard for the impending division of property. This can leave the other spouse feeling cheated, and rightfully so. If wasteful dissipation is proven in court, the judge can take it into account when dividing assets. The dissipated funds are essentially added back to the marital estate, and then the remaining assets are divided. This means the spouse who irresponsibly spent marital funds might end up with a smaller share to compensate for their actions.

Equalization. In cases where a couple has been in a long marriage (over 25 years of marriage), the court may award a disproportionate amount of assets to help equalize each party’s economic positions following the divorce. The court may consider using assets to equalize parties in cases where one spouse has a disproportionately larger amount of separate assets, one spouse cannot support the same lifestyle (after divorce) with their half of the community property and earning, and/or the more advantaged spouse cannot pay alimony. The court also aims to recognize the contributions and sacrifices a spouse may have made in giving up their own carer to raise children and manage the home.

Substitution of alimony. In some cases, the court may decide to offer a spouse a large amount of property if a determined alimony award is appropriate, but the payor does not have sufficient income to pay alimony. Making a determination that a party has income to cover an alimony payment they seemingly can’t cover is known as imputation. Imputation comes into play when a spouse's reported income seems artificially low. Courts can decide to impute income, essentially estimating a more accurate earning potential, if they believe the spouse is voluntarily unemployed, underemployed, or hiding income sources. This imputed income is then used to calculate financial obligations like alimony, ensuring a fairer division of financial responsibility based on the spouse's capacity to earn, not just their current reported income.

Talk with Our Property Division Attorneys

Divorce can be emotionally charged, and navigating asset division can be overwhelming. If you're facing a divorce and have concerns about a fair division of assets, consulting with an experienced divorce attorney is crucial. This is especially true if you have more complex financial assets, like real estate, investments, business interests, intellectual property, or a high net worth.

The attorneys at McKinley Irvin can advise you on your specific situation and the factors likely to be considered by the court and help you advocate for a fair outcome.

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