Divorce When one Spouse Controls All the Money

Economic AbuseBy: Dennis M. Germain and Anthony A. DeMatteis.

In a marriage, economic abuse can occur when one spouse controls all access to the marital assets.  This most often occurs where one spouse is the sole producer of income and the other is a homemaker or stay at home parent.  When the parties are about to get divorced, the controlling spouse might purposely block the other spouse’s access to funds.  Furthermore, the controlling spouse might take active measures to keep the other spouse ignorant as to all financial matters.

It is helpful to understand that Michigan law generally treats a homemaker as one who has equally contributed to the marriage by enabling the other spouse to work.  Thus, assets accumulated during the marriage are subject to equitable division between both parties.  I.e., the fact that one spouse brings home the pay checks, does necessarily not mean that it is his/her separate assets.*  To the extent earned during the marriage, the assets are typically deemed as belonging to both parties.

Even so, in order to pursue or defend a divorce case, the homemaker needs access to the marital funds during the interim period before the divorce is actually finalized.  Pending the ultimate award of assets, spousal support, and/or child support, the homemaker likely needs money to maintain his/her station in life as well.  How can this be achieved?  The following are a few methods family court judges routinely use to provide relief for a party in need at the outset of a divorce case:

Attorney Fees

Where one party is unable to bear the expenses of pursuing a divorce action, and the other party is able to pay, a court may force the other party to pay the attorney fees and expenses necessary to pursue the divorce.**

Spousal Support and Child Support

At the outset of a divorce case, if the appropriate conditions are met, a party may obtain emergency or temporary spousal support and/or child support until a final order of support is awarded.***

Order for Maintenance of the Financial Status Quo or Other

At the outset of a divorce case, if the appropriate conditions are met, a family court judge may issue an order requiring the earner to maintain a level of financial security for the other party and/or the parties’ minor children.  This could include forcing the earner to deposit paychecks into a joint bank account of which both parties have access in order to pay utility bills, rent, mortgage payments, car payments, etc.  Additionally, a judge could issue an order restraining the parties from transferring or dissipating the marital assets.

It should be noted that, although this article has focused on the homemaker and economic abuse, one does not always need to be a homemaker or victim of economic abuse to obtain the relief described above.  It is not abnormal for family court judges to award attorney fees or temporary orders in cases where both parties are employed and have equal access to the marital assets.  The moral of this article is that family court judges have wide-ranging discretion to create various forms of relief for a party in need.****


* Darwish v Darwish, 100 Mich App 758; 300 NW2d 339(1980)

**MCR 3.206(C)

***See MCR 3.207(B) and (C)

**** See MCR 3.207(A)

Please note that this article is intended to be academic in nature.  Its purpose is to serve as a memorialization of research as well as invoke community discussion.  This article shall not constitute legal advice.  Legal advice should be given on a case-by-case basis, as its accuracy is relative to the timing and particular facts of the given matter.  It is important to always consult an attorney regarding legal matters.  Anthony DeMatteis, contributor to this article, is not an associate of Best Interest Law.

I am Dennis M. Germain, a family law attorney who promotes amicable resolution to domestic relations matters.  I primarily practice in Wayne County, Macomb County, and Oakland County.  My office and contact information is listed as follows:


Best Interest Law
48639 Hayes Road, Suite A
Shelby Township, MI 48315

Ph: (586) 219-6454
Fax: (586) 439-0404

Email: dennis.germain@bestinterestlaw.com

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