Married couples can store their personal and marital funds in a number of ways. Many deposit everything into one shared bank account, while others have a joint account to pay for shared costs while keeping separate savings accounts. Some people even keep their finances completely separate from their spouse for the entire marriage, thinking it will make the division of funds straightforward if they should ever separate.
No matter how you did your banking during the marriage, there's no guarantee you'll get 100% of the cash in your separate accounts after divorce. Since Washington is a community property state, any property acquired during the marriage is generally owned by both spouses, even your bank account balances. However, Washington state does consider some sources of income as separate property—but it's up to you to prove that it shouldn't be counted as community property.
How the Money in Your Bank Account Is Divided During Divorce
Regardless of where it's located or whose name is attached to it, any money and debts that are marital property will typically be divided fairly and equitably. Some important exceptions include:
- Inheritances. Any inheritance left solely to you (not you and your spouse) during or before the marriage is separate property, as long as it's kept in an account that bears only your name.
- Gifts. If a wealthy relative gave you a gift, it's considered your separate property as long as your name alone is on the account and the funds were not intended to be used for a shared purpose (such as a second honeymoon or home repairs).
- Premarital assets. If you sold your own assets prior to the date of marriage and deposited the proceeds into a bank account, your spouse usually does not have a claim to the money unless you also used the account for marital funds.
- Post-separation assets. Any assets, property, or debts acquired after the date of separation are typically not considered marital assets. A bank account opened after separation is only separate as long as no money acquired during the marriage was used to fund the account.
"Commingling" Your Funds Could Cause Problems
Even if your bank account was funded with your separate property, it could become community property if you've commingled any marital funds into the account. The theory is that even if money is kept separate, either spouse may use their own funds to pay for the mortgage, groceries, household bills, or child care. In short, spouses who allow an asset to become commingled consider that asset to be marital property.
For example, if you had a savings account in your own name before you were married but deposited your spouse's income into it over the course of the marriage, the account may be designated community property. Similarly, if your spouse had their own checking account before marriage and added your name to it, it could be considered community property.
Once funds have been commingled, the whole account could be considered a marital asset. You and your attorney have the burden of proof to establish the account as separate property or argue that a larger portion is rightfully yours.
Proving That Your Bank Account Is Separate Property
Washington divorce courts are required to consider several factors when dividing property, including the nature and extent of community property, the length of the marriage, and each spouse's financial position. They also have the authority to award an unequal distribution of property if an equal division of property would be unfair to either spouse. These factors can come into play when assigning ownership of:
- Quasi-community property. This is property located outside of the state that has been gifted to a Washington resident. This commonly occurs when one spouse receives an inheritance from an out-of-state relative.
- Retirement accounts. The length of the marriage may come into question when dividing an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement accounts. If you need help establishing ownership of commingled property, the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny can trace the source of the funds and advocate on your behalf.
If you are looking for the right attorney to help you navigate your divorce, contact the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny. We have extensive experience with divorce and family law issues, including complicated, high-asset divorce situations, and will work tirelessly to help you navigate your divorce and child custody issues. Call us today to arrange a private consultation, or use our online contact form to have us get back to you.