Certified Specialist in Family Law and Toronto Area Family Mediator and Arbitrator John Schuman was recently asked the following question:
My spouse and I have not been getting along for about 4 years. We live in the same house with our kids. A couple of years ago I went to a lawyer for advice. One thing they mentioned was to open my own bank account and have my pay go into it and pay expenses from there, as at the time my spouse was not working. She knew I opened the account but she does not have any access to it. Recently my spouse has asked to see the account from when I opened it because they do not believe me that I do not have money to purchase something for our child which is expensive (but not necessary). I have nothing to hide. Is not showing them the account a wise choice? I am thinking of separating, will this effect me in the eyes of the law? By law do I have to show my spouse? Should I show my spouse? Thanks any help would be appreciated.
As long as you and your spouse are not involved in family law litigation, or you are under a court order to disclose your bank accounts, you are under no legal obligation to show your spouse the contents of a bank account that is solely in your name. If accounts are joint, then the other account holder has a right to information regarding the account and to see the statements. As far as whether you should show the account to your spouse, that is a matter of personal choice.
If you do separate from your spouse, and you want a separation agreement or you end up in court, the rules are different. Financial disclosure (including of bank accounts) is the first step, and the cornerstone, of family law proceedings. It is a requirement under the Family Law Act that all separating spouses make full and frank disclosure of all relevant financial information. You should listen to this podcast that explains what disclosure is necessary in family law cases, when it has to be provided, and what can happen if not enough disclosure is provided. As part of this disclosure, you will have to disclose all the accounts you currently hold and their balances. You will also have to show them the statements to prove the amounts in the account. You should also watch this video, where I explain the issues regarding hiding money in family law cases and how a good lawyer will be able to track money that spouses have hidden.
If you think that your separation will involve going to court, you should watch this video on family court and how to prepare yourself for it. If you want to resolve your separation outside court, this link provides some explanations on the extra-judicial ways to do this. If you do end up in court, the fact that you did not show your spouse your personal bank account will probably not affect your case, as you were under no obligation to show it to him. However, if you do not disclose the account as part of your financial disclosure, there are serious consequences, ranging from the judge awarding costs against you to possibly dismissing your case.
Regardless of whether for court or for a separation agreement, financial disclosure is complicated and is one of the reasons why separating spouses should always contact a lawyer. To learn even more about separation and the rules of financial disclosure, you may want to get a copy of this easy-to-understand book on the basics of Ontario Family Law as a paperback, or as a $9.99 eBoo for Kindle or Kobo or as an iBook for iPad, iPhone or Mac. You may also want to listen to this podcast or watch this video. You can also use the search on the right to find lots more articles about marriage and divorce.