Can I keep my individual bank account during property division?

The shape of marriage is changing, and decades-old norms are now becoming less and less common. Some of these changes are driven by generational differences, many of which are credited to millennials. These young adults are increasingly choosing to maintain separate bank accounts even after saying “I do,” and while that might work well for them during marriage, it does raise some questions during property division.

A survey from Bank of America found that 28% of married millennials are refusing to combine bank accounts with their spouses. Some speculate that the reason these adults are maintaining separate accounts at more than twice the rate of Gen X and baby boomers is because of new technology. Apps such as Zelle and Venmo make it easy to quickly give a spouse money right away, a task that used to be much more complicated. For others in California who witnessed their baby boomer parents go through bitter divorces, separate accounts simply feel safer.

However, married couples who maintain separate accounts often mistakenly believe that these accounts are considered separate property. In reality, even separate accounts are most often marital property. When a person acquires an asset in his or her name alone, it is often believed to be separate property. When married, it does not matter whose name an asset was acquired in or which spouse’s name is on the paycheck. Barring a few exceptions, if it was acquired during marriage, it is usually community property and must be divided.

When California couples who maintain separate financial accounts decide to divorce, they may be surprised to realize that money in those accounts is still community property. This can be extremely confusing and disappointing, especially for those who found it difficult to maintain separate accounts but did so for the perceived benefits. To avoid unexpected surprises during property division and other aspects of the divorce process, young adults may want to consider speaking with an experienced family law attorney.

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