Can separate accounts deny you a fair share of assets?

It may have seemed perfectly logical to you when your new spouse suggested that you keep your individual bank accounts. Perhaps you added a joint account for paying bills or you divided the bills between you. Perhaps you never had an account of your own but trusted your spouse to take care of the finances.

Now that your marriage is coming to an end, you may be wondering what your financial future will be like. Your spouse may tell you that the money in his or her account does not belong to you and that you will have to make do with whatever you saved on your own. Fortunately, this may not be the case, but you may need skilled legal assistance to obtain what is legally yours during property division.

Who gets what?

Washington is a community property state. This means that once you get married, everything you and your spouse earn, purchase or acquire belongs to both of you with a few exceptions, such as gifts or inheritances. In the event of a divorce, the law indicates that your joint assets should be equally split between you, even if those assets are in the name of one spouse only.

It is not unusual for married couples to keep their financial lives separate. Many in their 20s and 30s have already established their careers, purchased property and even begun their retirement savings before they marry. Like your spouse, many believe that keeping their income in a separate account protects it from asset division during a divorce. In Washington, this is not true, even if you take the following steps:

  • Keeping your spouse’s name off your checking and savings accounts
  • Putting the deed to the house or other property in one spouse’s name
  • Titling the vehicles in one name only
  • Keeping valuables in a personal safe deposit box.

If you signed a prenuptial agreement before you married, you may think you have no chance of obtaining a fair share of marital assets. However, with an experienced attorney on your side, you may discover ways that your spouse nullified the terms of the contract. Even an inheritance, which is generally an asset separate from marital property, may be fair game under certain conditions. Speaking with an attorney as early as possible in your divorce process may allow you to claim what is rightfully yours.

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