A joint savings account with a child can seem like a great idea until that savings account becomes a matter of dispute. In divorce and separation proceedings, you're required to disclose all of your property and assets so that the judge or jury can fairly divide them. Your joint accounts are considered part of the marital assets, but whether or not the judge will decree that your spouse should have access to these accounts depends on several other factors.
Type of Joint Account
If you don't regularly access the funds in your child's account, the judge might opt not to treat it as part of marital property. For example, you might have signed your child's account when she started college. If she never removed you but you don't use the account, the judge might not perceive it as yours. If, however, you regularly use the account or the judge believes you added your child's name to it to protect or hide your assets, the account could be up for grabs.
There are two basic varieties of divorce laws. In community property states, the court views both you and your spouse as equal owners of all marital assets -- including joint bank accounts. If you live in an equitable distribution state, though, the court examines what is fair and equitable, but this doesn't necessarily yield a 50/50 split. In a community property state, your account is more likely to be a subject of your divorce proceedings.
Your Specific Circumstances
Appeals courts routinely grapple with property division, and their decisions depend on legal precedents and how specific situations line up with such precedents. The court will examine the totality of your circumstances and then determine what is fair and legal. In one Alabama case, for example, a court ruled that a savings account a wife opened in her minor children's name was the legal property of the children once they became adults.
Adult Children's Rights
When your children share your accounts, they also have a say. They may opt to fight the court's ruling or attempt to have you removed from the account. This can bring in a third lawyer, and may even yield multiple lawsuits. If your spouse gets a share of the account, for example, your child might sue your spouse to recover the funds.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.