How Are Joint Bank Accounts Split During a California Divorce?

Posted in Property Division on September 30, 2021

Property division is a significant concern for most couples who are going through divorces in California. It is normal to want to protect your hard-earned money and assets, including income that is stored in a joint bank account. Learn more about how joint bank accounts are divided in a California divorce case for tips on how to protect your assets with a divorce attorney in Solana Beach.

California Divides Joint Bank Accounts 50/50 in Most Divorces

 California’s property division law is different than in most other states. Rather than dividing assets and debts according to what is fair or equitable, the courts in California split everything down the middle. This means even if you were the only person making money during your marriage, you will have to divide everything that you have 50/50 with your ex-spouse in a divorce. However, the courts in California only have the right to divide community property, not separate property. 

Community property describes any assets or debts acquired by you and your spouse after you got married. Separate property is anything that you had prior to the marriage. A joint bank account is viewed as community property, as it is something that you and your spouse own together. Any bank account that is in your name alone, however, may be viewed as your separate property and not at risk of being divided, depending on the circumstances.

As a couple going through a divorce in California, you have the chance to decide how to divide your joint bank account before you must ask a court to do it for you. If you and your spouse can work together and compromise on how to divide all of your community property, including joint bank accounts, savings accounts and retirement savings, you can avoid a court splitting everything in half. If you and your spouse cannot agree, however, the courts will use the 50/50 rule to allocate half of what is in a joint bank account to your spouse, in most cases.

Can Separate Bank Accounts Help Keep Liquid Assets Separate? 

Yes and no; the answer will depend on your specific situation. While keeping a separate bank account from your spouse during your marriage can reduce the odds of the courts giving half of your earnings to your spouse, it is not a guarantee. Separate bank accounts can still be considered community property. If you opened a bank account during your marriage, for example, even if it is only in your name, state law views it as communal property.

However, California Family Code Section 2622 holds that any bank accounts opened, assets acquired or income earned after the date of separation but before a divorce is separate property. Opening an account once you decide to end your marriage or physically separate from your spouse, therefore, could protect anything you put in that account from being divided. The courts will have the final say in what is and is not viewed as community property in a divorce trial, however.

How to Protect Your Assets in a California Divorce

There are strategies that you can use to protect your income and assets from being divided in a California divorce case. Start by choosing to keep separate bank accounts separate after you get married. Never commingling your assets can increase the chances of the courts viewing your bank account as separate property.

If you or your spouse are bringing significant assets or debt into a marriage, consider using a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement to work out property division early. These legal documents can allow you and your spouse to determine how you will divide your assets, including a joint bank account, while you are still getting along and able to compromise. Then, if your marriage should ever end in divorce, you can use your prenup or postnup for property division guidelines.

The best way to protect your rights and navigate California’s community property division law in a divorce case is by hiring a divorce attorney in Solana Beach to represent you. An attorney can help you protect a separate or joint bank account, exercise your rights in or out of the courtroom, and pursue your financial goals for your case. Contact an attorney from Ratzer|Dobis today for more information.