The court must provide for the distribution of assets and debts when it dissolves a marriage. All things being equal, both spouses should receive an equal portion of the net marital estate (i.e., assets minus debts).
Each Spouse Owes a Fiduciary Duty to the Other
Both spouses owe a fiduciary duty to disclose all community and separate property assets prior to the entry of a Decree of Dissolution. In re Marriage of Sievers, 78 Wn. App. 287, 310, 897 P.2d 388 (1995). This fiduciary duty is continuing; it does not cease upon physical separation, or the contemplation or pendency of a dissolution proceeding. In re Marriage of Sanchez, 33 Wn. App. 215, 218, 654 P.2d 702 (1982); Seals v. Seals, 22 Wn. App. 652, 655-56, 590 P.2d 1301 (1979).
Future Earning Potential Is Relevant in the Distribution of Property
Future earning potential “is a substantial factor to be considered by the trial court in making a just and equitable property distribution.” In re Marriage of Rockwell, 141 Wn. App. 235, 248, 170 P.3d 572 (2007); See also In re Marriage of Hall, 103 Wn.2d 236, 248, 692 P.2d 175 (1984). A disproportionate allocation of the net marital estate may be appropriate when one spouse is likely to enjoy substantially more income in the future.
The Trial Court Has Broad Discretion
Courts have broad discretion in valuing property, and the trial court’s decision will be overturned only if there has been a manifest abuse of discretion. In re Marriage of Gelesby, 89 Wn. App. 390, 403, 948 P.2d 1338 (1997). Property distributions do not need to be equal in order to be just and equitable. See, e.g., In re Marriage of Tower, 55 Wn. App. 697, 780 P.2d 863 (1989); In re Marriage of Nicholson, 17 Wn. App. 110, 117, 561 P.2d 1116 (1977). A disproportionate award is within the trial court’s discretion. 20 Washington Practice, Family and Community Property Law, Section 32.8.3 (1997); In re Marriage of Davison, 112 Wn. App. 251, 258-59, 48 P.3d 358 (2002); In re Marriage of Dessauer, 97 Wn.2d 831, 650 P.2d 1099 (1982).
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