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Is the savings account yours just because your name is on it?

So you're getting divorced, and you're trying to divide up assets. One of your largest assets is your bank account, and you're happy because you opened it and only put your name on the account. That means you get to keep all of the money yourself, right, rather than splitting it with your spouse?

Actually, this is a common misconception. The court won't pay a lot of attention to whose name is listed. What is more important is when the account was opened and how it was used.

If you were already married when you opened it, it is going to count as a marital asset that belongs to both you and your spouse. Your paychecks were likely deposited into it, either through a direct deposit system or by taking paper checks to the bank, and this is money that was intended for you and your spouse to use when you were married. Your spouse also has a claim.

Now, if you opened the account prior to your marriage, you may be able to claim it as yours, especially if you've not added to it while you were married. Maybe a grandparent left you some money in a will, for example, and you dropped it into a bank account and left it alone. You can claim that money was yours before you and your spouse got together and it should still be yours.

This can get tricky if the assets have been commingled. For example, you may have started your account with the money from the will before you were married, but then you just used it for your paychecks and your spouse's paychecks after you got married. In cases like this, your spouse still has a claim. You may be able to claim the balance that existed prior to the marriage, but the lines blur a bit in this type of situation and you should never assume the entire account will be yours.

When dividing property, you must know how the courts view that property. Never take anything for granted, know your rights and be prepared for a complex division process.

Source: Zachs, "Divorce & Individual Savings Account," Beverly Bird, accessed Nov. 11, 2016

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