My spouse and I have separated and we are going to divorce.  Who pays the bills?  Can I open my own bank account?  Should I freeze our credit cards?  These are some of the most common questions parties have at the start of the divorce process.

Early Stages of Divorce

In the early stages of divorce, there are a lot of questions about who can or should pay the household bills and how a non-working spouse or the spouse with less access to money can survive the litigation.  In Minnesota, when a divorce action is commenced the Petition for Dissolution is served with a Summons.  The Summons contains certain Restraining Provisions including a requirement that neither party dispose of any assets except for the necessities of life.

Every dissolution has a different set of circumstances and facts leading up to the filings.  Generally, it is best for the parties to keep their finances “status quo” and for each party to continue what they have been paying prior to the filing.  Keeping current statements and tracking where all money goes it a must in this stage of litigation.  It is particularly important to keep things status quo if there are children involved.  That way, the kids are not disrupted by lights getting shut off or garbage not getting collected.  It is not uncommon for unease between parties and distrust to be at an all-time high right around the time of filing.

Bank Accounts

It is ok to open new bank accounts or credit accounts during this stage of litigation, but all of the information about those accounts will have to be disclosed to the other spouse during the discovery process.

If money in bank accounts is from one of the parties’ employment, investments made during the marriage or retirement accounts accrued during the marriage, then the money is a marital asset and technically belongs to both parties.  Both parties should avoid spending large sums of money or charging large sums on credit cards.  Of course, sometimes one party withdraws funds or could be accused of “hiding” assets in a divorce.  An experienced attorney or in extreme cases a forensic accountant can assist in finding hidden assets.  In this day and age, there is usually a paper trail to find the money.  Except the restraining provisions, there aren’t any hard and fast rules about who should pay for what in the beginning stages of divorce.  It is generally accepted that marital funds can be used for retaining an attorney and paying attorney’s fees throughout the proceeding.