Divorce Bank Account Questions - What You Need to Know

Do you have divorce bank account questions? Are you wondering what will happen to financial accounts that were opened during your marriage? Worried that he will drain all of your shared accounts and leave you with no money to live on? Is your own personal account safe from being purged in the process of the divorce? Save yourself some grief by learning about some common issues with bank accounts and divorce. 

by WomansDivorce | Answers by Brette Sember, J.D.

In general, each spouse has a legal right to access joint bank accounts during a divorce, as these funds are considered marital property. This includes any joint contributions as well as any individual contributions. It is important to note, however, that funds held in an individual account may only be accessed by the person who is named on the account. Additionally, individual accounts which existed before the marriage or those funded solely with an inheritance are often not divided in a divorce.  But any money added to a pre-marital account during the marriage would be considered marital property.

If you are concerned your soon-to-be-ex will wipe out all the money in your joint accounts, you may want to consider opening a separate account in your name only. You can deposit your paycheck to this account to insure you have money during the divorce. You can also transfer 50% of the funds from the joint account into your individual account. You should consult with your lawyer before withdrawing any funds because it could be seen as financial misconduct.

In most states, a spouse also has the right to freeze a joint bank account during a divorce, particularly if there are concerns that one spouse may try to hide or dissipate assets. The court may issue a temporary restraining order or injunction preventing either spouse from accessing joint accounts during the divorce proceedings. This is often done to protect the assets until a final division can be determined.

Finally, the way bank accounts are divided during a divorce can vary depending on the state in which the divorce is taking place, as well as the specific circumstances of the case. Here are some common ways joint bank accounts may be divided during a divorce:

  • Equitable distribution: Most states in the United States use the principle of equitable distribution to divide assets during a divorce. This means that assets are divided fairly but not necessarily equally. In the case of bank accounts, the court may consider factors such as each spouse's contribution to the account, the length of the marriage, and each spouse's financial needs when determining how the account should be divided. 

  • Community property: Some states, such as California, use the community property system to divide assets during a divorce. Under this system, all assets acquired during the marriage are considered community property and are divided equally between the spouses. This includes bank accounts. 

  • Mutual agreement: Spouses may also come to their own agreement about how to divide bank accounts (and other assets) during a divorce.

It's important for both spouses to be transparent about their financial situation during a divorce and to work towards a fair division of assets. Consulting with an experienced divorce attorney can help ensure that both spouses are aware of their legal rights and obligations regarding divorce bank account issues.

Divorce Bank Account Questions and Answers

Can I take out half the money in our joint account?

Kim's Question: My husband told me he hasn't loved me for years, so I left to stay at a friend's house and we are planning a divorce. He has decided to stay in the family home. He just lost his job of 21 years and has received a 10 week severance. What am I entitled to? Can I take out half the severance that is in our joint account still?

Brette's Answer: Make an appointment for a consultation with a matrimonial lawyer in your area. He or she will advise you as to exactly what you should do. Generally you are entitled to remove half of the marital funds, but you must keep records of it.

Can he close the joint accounts after I file for divorce?

K's Question: If I move out and file for divorce, is it against the law for him to close out all joint credit cards and bank accounts?

Brette's Answer: No, it is not illegal, but he will be required to make those funds available for the dissolution. Get statements from the bank to prove what was in them and ask for your half in court.

Are finances automatically frozen when the divorce is filed?

Becky's Question: If I file on line for divorce, will this freeze our finances?

Brette's Answer: Bank accounts are only frozen at your request, or by court order.

Can I freeze his accounts if I get a lawyer first?

Bre's Question: My husband has two secret bank accounts in his name. I have seen the cards when they came in the mail. If I get a lawyer first and tell them about the accounts and I have his social, will they freeze his accounts? And if so, am I entitled to half of what's in both?

Brette's Answer: They will not freeze his accounts. But if the money is marital assets, then it will be accounted for (both of you have to make a complete financial disclosure) and divided in the divorce.

When does the ownership of a joint bank account change?

Brette's Answer: As to when you actually physically change ownership, that is generally done once the decree is final.

Is money deposited in a child's account considered marital property?

Emily's Question: I am 19 years old and my parents are getting divorced. I have one joint account with my dad, one brokerage investment account with my mom as the account overseer, and two accounts in my own name with no one else connected with them. Are any of my personal accounts going to be scrutinized? If they deposited to my account, does that count as a gift or as marital property? If the investment account is now technically in my name, do they have rights to it?

Brette's Answer: Any account set up as a Uniform Gift to Minor or Uniform Transfers to Minor account is not a marital asset in the divorce. Money put in that account is the minor's and is a gift from whomever deposited it. The only issue that could come up is if your parents put money in your account in an attempt to hide assets during the divorce. If you are over 18, the funds in those accounts are yours to do with as you please.

Does he have any claim to the children's accounts?

Jennifer's Question: My children have some investment accounts and educational IRA's in their names with me controlling them under UGTMA. My ex-spouse wants access to those accounts and I contend they belong to the children and he has no claim on them. What is the stance on this?

Brette's Answer: Those accounts belong to the children. He can argue to the court that he should be the parent controlling them and that will be up to the court, but they cannot be given to him to use.

Can I move money into the kid's account so he can't get it?

Question: I have my own bank account and have never had any joint accounts with spouse. Can I remove more than half of my money and put it in someone else's name with no repercussions, like either my sister's name or one of my children? And then he wouldn't be able to get it should we divorce?

Brette Replies: All assets acquired during divorce are marital and must be accounted for and divided by the court - it doesn't matter where you move it. You can remove money if you need it or are worried he will take it.

Can a safety deposit box be touched during a divorce?

Sandy's Question: If I stuff cash away and can keep it hidden, can I secretly get a safety deposit box in my name and keep that from being touched? The last time we separated, I couldn’t even afford a lawyer. I want to be able to save enough to pay a good lawyer this time.

Brette's Answer: Assets acquired during marriage are marital property. It is usually permissible for one spouse to withdraw about half from a joint account if there are concerns that the assets will be spent or wasted. You should talk with an attorney to create a plan for how to move forward. 

Will the bank account I had before we married be split?

Kimberly Asks: We have been married 3 years. Is he entitled to any money that has been deposited into a savings account that I have had since before we got married? He is not named as a beneficiary on my savings account and has not contributed to it at all.

Brette's Answer: The money that was in the account before marriage is your separate property and not dividable in the divorce. A bank statement showing what was in the account before marriage would be proof of the amount. Anything you added to it during marriage is marital property and will be considered in creating a property settlement. This doesn't mean he will get it, but it does mean it is considered part of the pot that must be divided. Property settlements look at the big picture and include all assets and debts.

Is it co-mingling if I use trust fund money to pay household bills?

Kay's Question: Is it considered co-mingling of funds if I take money from a trust (first set up by my mom, then became mine) and put in my own personal account that I use to pay household bills with?

Brette's Answer: The money used to pay the household bills likely becomes marital property but the unused amount is probably not.

Is this money considered a marital asset since it was a gift to me and he misused it?

Cassy's Question: My dad sent me money as a gift six years ago for medical expense use, and the money was wired into our joint account. My soon-to-be husband transferred the entire amount to a joint stock account 3 days later without discussing with me and used it to purchase stocks throughout the years. The stock value crashed later on. Is this money considered marital asset since it was a gift to me and he misused it?

Brette's Answer: When you deposited it into a joint account you converted it to a marital asset. You should talk to your lawyer though - there may be some leverage here.

Are new deposits co-mingled if I open an account with marital funds after we separate?

Joy's Question: Are these assets marital or non-marital? I withdrew 1/3 the money from our joint accounts after he withdrew 2/3 without my knowledge on the day he moved out. Then I opened a new account in my name and deposited those funds. 4 weeks later, he filed a petition for dissolution. Would I be co-mingling funds if I continue to deposit newly earned income into that new account?

Brette's Answer: The funds are marital. However, once you have separated there is usually no co-mingling. You should be able to trace exactly where the funds went should there be a question. And I hope you have an attorney because you are likely entitled to more than just 1/3.

Should I change the direct deposit before filing for divorce?

Sharon's Question: Should I change my direct deposits to my new checking account before I file for divorce or wait until my spouse is served?

Brette's Answer: You should ask your lawyer what they recommend you do. They're marital property either way, but having them sent to your separate account means you can maintain control of them. 

Do I have rights to post-divorce money if a joint account wasn't closed?

Sue's Question: The judge did not rule on our joint e-trade account and who owns it because there wasn't any money in. After the divorce was final, my ex-husband starting purchasing stock using this account. My name is still on the account. My ex wants me to sign a document removing my name from the account. He will not give me any of the money in the account saying it is all his since it is post-divorce. However, I look at this like it is a normal joint account and if he deposited money into it, they are joint funds regardless if we are married or not. Do I have an argument here or would it be best to sign off on the account?

Brette's Answer: If the money was deposited post-divorce it is not marital funds. You should discuss this situation with a lawyer.

Will I get half of the funds if the account is only in his name?

Julie's Question: My husband left me over 3 months ago, after 13 years of marriage. We are not legally separated and are still "trying" to work it out.  I recently found out he opened a checking account in his name only and has all his overtime money going straight to that account instead of our joint checking account.  If he files for divorce, will half of the money in his secret account be considered mine?

Brette's Answer: Yes. Any money earned during marriage is marital property and is divided in the divorce. You should consult an attorney though because sometimes assets are divided as of the date of separation.

Are saving accounts owned before marriage separate property?

Jenny's Question: I know that property bought before marriage is yours to keep if there is a divorce. Does this principle apply to saving accounts owned before marriage? I've had to take money out and put it back in throughout the course of our marriage, but my husband and I have never combined finances.

Brette's Answer: Everything you owned before marriage is separate property. Separate funds that are kept separate are not divided in the divorce, but it's going to depend on where the funds came from that you put back into the account.

Do I have to tell his lawyer about my personal bank account?

Donna's Question: We are contemplating separation or possibly divorce. I opened a bank account without his knowledge, and have been putting some money in it each week so I have funds in case I have to be on my own. If it comes to us divorcing, can his lawyer research and find out about it?

Brette's Answer: You are going to have to disclose the bank account in your financial affidavit. Everyone in a divorce must provide complete financial disclosure to the other party and to the court. Failure to reveal the information could get you into serious trouble. That doesn't mean you won't be able to keep the money however, and it certainly doesn't mean you can't use that money right now to pay your bills.

Does his attorney have the right to ask for my bank statements?

Brette's Answer: Divorce requires complete financial disclosure and bank statements are a part of that. 

What if I found statements for an account he didn't disclose?

Kathleen's Question: My husband just filed for a divorce after 10 years of marriage. While looking through some financial documents I found statements for a money market account with quite a lot of money in it and looked to be in his name only. What should I do if he didn't include any of it in his income and expense declarations? The date on the papers was one year ago. I have a feeling that he is going to say that it was his parent's money or something like that and he will certainly move the money if I mention it to him.

Brette's Answer: Say nothing to him and give the information to your attorney immediately.

Should we split the savings and checking accounts?

Tina's Question: We are separated and we are going to use a paralegal. I wanted to find out if we should split our savings acct, checking account and 401k. I am a housewife and he is the breadwinner. We have one child together. He doesn't want me to touch any account.

Brette's Answer: I strongly suggest that you go and talk to an attorney to find out what your rights are and what you would be entitled to in court. You don't need to hire the attorney to represent you, but one session in which you educate yourself about the law and how your case would be decided by a court would be very eye-opening for you.

As it stands now, either one of you can close those bank accounts out and empty all the funds at any time. If he does this, it leaves you with nothing. You're going to short-change yourself unless you get some legal advice.

Am I entitled to half the money in his savings account?

G's Question: We've been married for almost a year and are expecting a child in 2 months. I'm planning on filing for a separation. We have a car in our names. I need a car for me and the child, as well as spousal and child support. Also, he has a saving account in which we were saving money for a house, but my name's not on it. Can I have that money split in half?

Brette's Answer: All the assets will be split in the divorce and you could get the car as part of the property settlement. You can also ask for child support. You will likely not get alimony, or if you do, not for long because your marriage was so brief. You should consult an attorney.

Can I make him repay the money he took from my account?

Tami's Question: Before leaving, my husband took all the money from my checking account by writing checks and forging my name, which caused a lot of checks to bounce. The checking account was in my name only, and now I have bad credit and have to repay this money. Can I somehow get him to pay this in the divorce settlement?

Brette's Answer: Yes. That money is marital property and must be accounted for in the divorce settlement. Put together a good accounting of what he took and how much it cost you in fees. Also, detail some information about how it has affected your credit rating. Get an attorney.

Am I responsible for all the bills if I cleaned out our joint account?

Rena's Question: I have been a stay at home Mom for almost 5 years. Recently my husband was arrested for domestic violence against me. The next day I removed the funds in our joint account that we keep for next month's bills. He’s made it clear he will not be paying rent or bills any longer. Am I responsible for paying the bills that are solely in his name since I removed the funds from our account?

Brette's Answer: You should set up an appointment for a free consultation with a divorce attorney in your area who can help you create a plan for your finances moving forward and advise you what your responsibilities are.

Can I legally pay bills out of his checking account?

Rebecca's Question: My husband moved out of the marital home a couple of months ago. Can I legally pay bills out of his checking account?

Brette Answers: No, not unless your name is on the account. You can file for spousal support.

Can I withdraw money from his account to help support the kids?

Angie's Question: After being separated for 6 months, my husband hasn't paid any child support for our children. Since we are still legally married, can I access his account to help with the support of our children? The account is only in his name.

Brette's Answer: No. The bank will not allow you to access it, but the court can divide those funds in the divorce if they are marital property. You should go to family court and seek child and spousal support.

Can I take a check and withdraw half the money from his account?

Kathy's Question: Can I forge a check from my husband's account to get 1/2 of the balance in the account before it all disappears from the account?

Brette's Answer: No, of course not. Check forging is illegal.

Do I have any rights if he opened an account with his girlfriend?

Wanda's Question: We were married for 27 years when he found a younger woman. I made him leave the home and he moved in with her the next day. He has a checking account with her on it and they purchased a vehicle together. What are my rights legally?

Brette's Answer: Whatever he took with him in terms of cash that came from marital funds is considered a marital asset and is accountable in the divorce. It doesn't matter what he does with it or what account he puts it into.

Will I get part of the joint account he has with his father?

Andrea's Question: We're getting a divorce but nothing has been filed yet. He has a joint account with his father and has had this account the entire time of our marriage. He has a portion of his check go to this account. Am I entitled to some of this money since he accrued it during the marriage?

Brette's Answer: Yes, but there will need to be some accounting to determine what portion of the account is his and thus marital.

What are my rights if he was a co-signer on his father's accounts?

Andrea's Question: Three years ago, my husband had his name put on his aging father's accounts. There are money market accounts, cd's, saving accounts, and checking accounts, all of which he is a co-account holder. When he told me he was going to divorce me, he took his name off of all his shared accounts with his father. What, if any, legal rights do I have to those accounts.

Brette's Answer: It will depend on what the intent was. If he was put on the accounts for convenience, so he could do banking for his father, and not as an owner, then you may have no right to it. You need to retain a lawyer who can help you with this.

Is it considered a gift if I use money from a joint account held with my Mom?

Kimberlyn's Question: My mother is about to receive a very large sum of money. She wants to open a few different bank accounts with me as the co-owner. I will not contribute any money but will be able to use the funds as I wish. Would the money I spend from these accounts be considered a gift from my mother? If my husband and I were to divorce, would he be entitled to half of all money in these accounts even though it's my mother's money?

Brette Answers: The money would be considered a gift upon the opening of the joint account. A gift is not marital property unless you convert it (such as using it to pay the mortgage or for items you both use). You and your mother should consult with an attorney to determine the best way to structure this gift for tax and divorce purposes (for example, a trust is an option).

Is he entitled to any of the money that I'm managing for my mother?

Jen's Question: I am currently in the settlement process of my divorce. I have a savings account with mine and my brother's name on it. The money in the account is my mothers. My brother and I had to put it in our names because our mother has mental health issues. My ex is trying to claim half of the money in the savings account. The money in that account has nothing to do with him or myself for that matter. Can he get away with that?

Brette's Answer: That money would be considered a separate asset (a gift) or not an asset of yours at all since you are simply managing her funds.

Do I have to disclose that I am on my mother's bank account?

Stephanie's Question: Can my husband get to my mother's accounts? I am a signer on them in case of an emergency and need to access them on her behalf. Do I have to disclose that I am on her bank account when we submit financial statements in our divorce?

Brette's Answer: If you do not own the money, it is not an asset. If your mother has told you that you can have the money, then it is questionable whether you own it or not. If it is purely a convenience account situation where you cannot use the money for yourself but can access it for your mother, as a matter of convenience, it's unlikely it would be considered your asset.

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Copyright WomansDivorce.com | Updated February 18, 2023

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