Category: Family Law
If you are at the stage where you are silently contemplating divorce, but have not shared these feelings with your spouse, there are some important financial steps you may want to take now, especially if you feel nervous or scared about how your spouse will react to your decision.
First, you should know that even if an account is only in one spouse’s name, it can hold marital property. So, if you have a joint checking account, or if your spouse has an account with only their name on it that they put their paycheck into, you likely have a claim to the money in either of those accounts. Similarly, if you open a checking account and put money into it that you earn during your marriage, that money is likely still marital property even if the account is only in your name. This is also true if you open a credit card account in your name: as long as the debt you incur on that credit card paid for your living expenses, your attorney fees, or other “marital debts,” the debt belongs to the marriage and not solely to you. It’s subject to division at the end of your divorce.
However, even if the money in an account will be divisible as marital property, you can still create much-needed space as you contemplate divorce by opening your own account. If you currently only have a joint checking and/or savings account that is accessible by both you and your partner, you may want to go in person to a bank branch and open your own checking and/or savings account. Look for a bank that has a low- or no-fee account with a small minimum balance. Do you worry that your spouse would easily notice an ATM withdrawal from your joint checking and wonder what you were spending that money on? You can use your debit card to buy groceries and ask for cash back, $20 or $40 at a time until you have a stash of a few hundred dollars with which you can go open your own bank account.
You can also create some space with your own credit card. You can visit sites like nerdwallet.com or bankrate.com to search for different credit card offers. Even if you do not intend to purchase anything with the card immediately, you should apply for a card so that you have a way to make a purchase (or pay a retainer fee to hire an attorney) that is not accessible to your partner. Look for a card that offers a low introductory interest rate over a fairly long period of time if possible. The sites mentioned above will allow you to search for cards with features such as this, as well as to gauge the likelihood of being approved based on your current credit score. Even if you have poor or mediocre credit there will most likely be a credit card you are eligible for, and even if it has a fairly small credit limit, it is worth securing a card for emergencies.
Another step that you should consider taking to protect yourself if you feel your spouse is being financially abusive or controlling is to create your own separate logins for any joint credit cards, bank accounts, retirement accounts (including the work-related pension or 401k or other similar retirement savings accounts that are in your spouses’s name), and other financial instruments that offer online access. If you feel uncomfortable doing this from your own computer or phone, ask a friend to allow you to use their computer to do this, or go to a public library to use the computer there. While creating your own separate logins to these financial account sites, make a list of them, noting the website where you can access the account, the new login, and the password you choose.
Once you have already initiated divorce proceedings, it can be very difficult to access this kind of information, especially in a high-conflict divorce situation. Taking these steps prior to speaking openly about your desire to divorce your spouse can help protect you and immensely improve your ability to access the funds that you are entitled to in the divorce settlement process, while also helping to control legal costs.
[If you ever feel that your life is in danger or are intensely fearful of your spouse or fear for your children, please contact an attorney who can help you file for an Emergency Order of Protection, or contact Illinois Legal Aid for advice on seeking an EOP.]