When a married couple divorces in Washington, they must divide their property according to Washington law. In theory, this shouldn't be so hard to do: Washington follows a system known as community property, which provides that almost everything acquired during the marriage counts as community property, and -- in theory -- should be split 50-50 upon divorce. In practice, division of assets is frequently more difficult than that, and can require a lot of negotiation, particularly for high-asset and high-profile couples.
When former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and his wife, Silda Wall, announced over the holidays that they were ending their 26-year marriage, many reporters expected a media circus. Once a rising political star, Spitzer resigned the governorship after admitting that he had visited prostitutes. Their divorce was originally listed as a contested one, and reporters braced themselves for a divorce battle that would produce more scandal.
If that's what reporters wanted, however, they were probably disappointed with what they got. Lawyers for the parties announced that Spitzer and Wall had reached agreement on all matters in their divorce just weeks after the Christmas Eve news of their split.
Most states call for equitable division upon divorce. This means that division of assets has to meet certain standards of fairness under state law. In Washington and the other states that practice community property law, this whole process is supposed to work more easily. In practice however, the process is rarely easy and often takes a great deal of negotiation. It can be difficult to divide complex assets such as retirement accounts. Washington courts have a lot of discretion to divide assets differently, according to what seems fair under the circumstances. In cases where one spouse has a much greater income potential than the other, a 50-50 split may not be fair, and a court may require the higher earner to pay the other spousal support.
Still, in even high-profile, high-asset divorces with a high potential for drama, some ex-spouses can quickly come to an agreement, particularly when they are committed to the process. A Washington attorney with experience in divorce and other aspects of family law can help people going through a divorce to come to an agreement.
Source: New York Daily News, "Eliot Spitzer and longtime wife Silda Wall file divorce papers," Barbara Ross, Brian Niemietz and Dareh Gregorian, Jan. 15, 2014