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Separate bank accounts do not equal separate property

Jul 10, 2019 | Firm News, Property Division

Married couples in West Virginia usually share much more than their last names. From homes to groceries to favorite TV shows, much of marriage seems to be based on shared assets and activities. However, after witnessing their parents and friends’ parents go through sometimes bitter divorce proceedings, many millennials are much more cautious when it comes to marriage. These young adults are doing things a little differently than past generations in order to protect their financial assets. Unfortunately, these efforts may not be as effective during property division as some might think.

A recent study from Bank of America determined that 28% of married millennial couples are choosing to keep their money apart in separate bank accounts. This is more than twice the number of baby boomer and Gen X couples who do the same. The increased use of separate bank accounts could be partially due to new technology that makes it easier to quickly and immediately transfer money. This does not tell the whole story, though.

A significant number of millennials believe that keeping assets separate during marriage is the key to successful property division. The common belief is that having an asset in only one person’s name means that it will be separate property. This is not how family law works, though. Even if an asset only has only one person’s name — including things like homes, bank accounts and debt — if it was acquired during the marriage, then it is usually considered marital property. This means it does not mean if a couple had separate bank accounts, the funds in those accounts will still be marital property that has to be addressed during property division.

Some West Virginia couples might be disappointed to find out that the actions they took to protect their finances in the event of a divorce were not sufficient. However, young adults do have options for protecting their property. Signing either a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that outlines which property is separate and which is marital can be extremely helpful, and it also gives a couple the opportunity to discuss topics that they might otherwise bring up. Perhaps most importantly, it protects both people’s assets during property division.