Beyond the “Black Hole”–A Historical Perspective on Understanding the Non-Legislative History of Washington Community Property Law

Kelly M. Cannon, Beyond the “Black Hole”–A Historical Perspective on Understanding the Non-Legislative History of Washington Community Property Law, 39 Gonz. L. Rev. 7 (2004).

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There is perhaps no area of the law of Washington state where more speculation has been entertained than the historical background of its community property system. Ever since Washington became a state, it has had a system of community property law.  However, to state that Washington has had community property law since statehood was conferred is to imply that it was instituted then. This is not correct. There has been a system of community property in Washington since 1869. The laws enacted after Washington became a state in 1889 merely effected a continuation of the property system, which had already been in existence for nearly twenty years.

Unfortunately, not much else is known about this legislative event. Virtually no records were preserved that shed light on why the territory of Washington chose to pass a community property statute rather than follow the traditional common law.  In fact, one researcher went so far as to write that “a search … has been made but wholly without result… . [This] writer’s efforts have uncovered nothing useful… .”

The lack of direct information regarding this subject poses a serious obstacle to the study of Washington’s community property statutes. Nevertheless, there is enough information regarding the adoption of community property by other western states to provide strong inferences as to what induced the Washington legislature to do so. There may be two overriding concerns held by the residents of Washington Territory that guided the decision to adopt a community property system. First, Washington Territory residents wanted to align their laws more closely with the laws of California. Second, the overwhelming majority of bachelors in the territory wanted to use the adoption of a community property statute to attract women to Washington.

In order to give context to the analysis of the development of community property in Washington, the first several sections of this paper are devoted to providing a factual understanding of the introduction of community property into the nine states where it now exists. The remaining sections discuss community property and how it came to pass in Washington…. Read More

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