Family Law

In Marriage Who Controls the Money

The law doesn't tell married people how to handle their money. They can do anything they like with their finances, as long as they don't break the law. Several amendments to the U.S. Constitution say that Americans have the right to make personal decisions regarding their lives without the government interfering.

No Requirement to Support

If one spouse earns a good income and the other does not, the higher-earning spouse has a moral duty to give the non-earning spouse money. However, the law can’t force this unless one spouse files for divorce.

Filing for Divorce Changes the Situation

Filing a divorce complaint or petition is an invitation to the government to get involved. After filing for divorce, one spouse can ask the court to order the other spouse to pay support or alimony. If the higher-earning spouse never shared income during the marriage and made the filing spouse live in poverty, the filing spouse could ask for divorce on the grounds of cruelty.

Income Is Marital Property

In most states, the earnings of both spouses are marital property. But unless one spouse files a lawsuit - such as for divorce - the law and the government can't keep tabs on what bank accounts spouses use to hold their incomes. Having a joint account or keeping separate accounts is entirely up to the couple.

However, if one spouse files for divorce and the law gets involved, the court can divide the money in all accounts between spouses because it is a marital asset. Courts don't usually divide money either spouse earned and saved before marriage. This is a spouse's "separate" property, but the spouse who earned it must be able to prove to the court that it's premarital.

You Can Hide Your Assets

Unless they divorce, spouses don't have to report their earnings or anything they purchase with their money to each other. Divorce laws in most states require that spouses reveal their entire financial picture to each other and to the court. Hiding income or assets can result in penalties called "sanctions." The court might give hidden assets to the other spouse as punishment.

A Family Law Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding financial support in marriage is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a family law lawyer.

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