Kids' bank accounts after divorce

My brother just went through a nasty divorce, but escaped after a lengthy 18-month process. He has one son in college and another entering this fall, and after marital assets were divided, he is paying monthly alimony for the next few years. For the record, this is in New York State.

One of the provisions of the divorce is that his ex-wife must pay for a certain percentage of each child’s college costs (until they are 21). So far she has lived up to her end of the deal.

Her 17 year old son has amassed a nice amount in his savings account, which he intends on using for his college future costs. However, just before the divorce was finalized, she “attached” herself to this account, as she is allowed to do (until he turns 18). When she did this, my nephew has not contributed any additional savings to this account.

Our fear is that she will withdraw the funds from this account & use it as her contribution towards his schooling. Apart from the obvious issue of “stealing from her son”, is there any legal foothold that would prevent her from doing this?

If this did happen, could my nephew sue his mother for taking money without his permission? Obviously, this would cause a lot of grief and headaches, and we are only trying to do what is best for my nephew.

Dang . . . this probably should have been posted in IMHO. Can I get a little help here (please)?

I’d already reported it for a move to IMHO :slight_smile:

Moderator Action

Moving thread from General Questions to In My Humble Opinion.

Thanks, Telemark.

I guess I picked the wrong day to stop sniffing glue!

Can he just transfer all the money out and open an account at another bank (that she doesn’t know about)? That sounds like it would be one solution.

Thank you for the response, Shagnasty. This is definitely a possibility, but let’s just say for the moment he does not do this. Can she legally take these funds and use them to pay for her portion of the school bill?

Let’s look at it another way.

This is my nephew’s money. If the bill for college was $20K, my brother would need to pay $15K (75%) and she would need to pay $5K (25%). This is how the percentage split is written in the divorce document. Of course, this is further capped at a lesser amount for her (i.e., it’s 25% up to a certain amount), so in this example, she would pay much less. Let’s call it $3K. The delta of $2K would need to come somewhere, and that would be my brother & his son.

My nephew lives with his father, and knows his father shoulders the majority of the bill. My nephew chooses to help HIM with the bill, as (1) she collects alimony, (2) works independently, and (3) lives at her parents house rent-free.

However, she is not happy that my nephew is choosing to use this savings to help my brother out.

It is not my brother’s choice how the savings account is used. My nephew clearly understands the split, and knows my brother carries the load.

Again, for no reason (other than she can), she attached herself to his savings account. The fear is that she will remove the funds & use it at her discretion. Is there any legal reason why she would not be permitted to do this?

I’m not a lawyer or even skilled in law, but my understanding is that such agreements only apply to joint account that have both names on them. The kid’s account only has the mom on it, so she can likely do what she wants, unless something specifically was decided about that account (or accounts owned by the kids).

And I second the recommendation to either transfer the funds or get the mom taken off the account. That’s the only way to be sure.

I agree … I’m surprised the divorce decree didn’t specify what was to be done with the money. If the court didn’t making a ruling about this, then it’s {probably} up to the custodial parent, or both parents if joint custody was granted. I don’t think the mother can just grab the money and spend it on her share of the tuition.

Nephew doesn’t need this drama his first year at college. Maybe grab the money and deposit it into the college right away, then there’s no question about how the money was spent.

I don’t think the courts ever knew anything about it. It was just a unilateral action by the mother. They way I understood it, the money in the account is possibly not going towards college tuition at all but for associated expenses on top of what the parents already have to pay.

The mother was just able to make it a joint account because she was the legal guardian and the nephew is under 18. She and the father still have to pay for college. The fear is that she could just yank the money out of her son’t account and say that is her contribution. It probably wouldn’t be stealing legally speaking because it is in a joint account with her name on it but it would be stealing ethically speaking. I don’t know the parties involved but it sounds very suspicious for someone to attach their name to another person’s account without a deliberate reason for it. Divorces make people some people do desperate and odd things even to their own children so it is a legitimate fear.

I say just yank the money out of the account so he doesn’t have to worry about it anymore. Put it anywhere else and don’t even mention it to the mother. If she never notices, then she probably wasn’t planning anything malicious anyway. If she flips out when she finds out the account is empty, he will know he was right for worrying in the first place.

My nephew’s account was in his name only. It was only when the divorce was almost final that she went to the bank and had her name added to account. That is legal to do in NYS (and maybe other states as well) as long as he is under 18. When he is 18, she can be removed from the account. However, he turns 18 during his freshman year in college, for which payments will have already started for his college education.

The accumulated savings were what he saved through the years, as well as jobs here & there. It was always exclusively to be used for paying for his college education.

My brother is the custodial parent. My nephew lives with him, by choice. He would never live with his mother.

Shagnasty, your assessment is spot on, except while she might be his mother, she is definitely NOT the custodial parent. The bank still allowed her to attach her name to the account because she is his mom (against his silent wishes). I have recommended that my nephew follow your advice. I had recommended this same advice many times in the past. However, he wants to see if she would be truly capable of doing this to her son.

If she did, he would never speak to his mom again. BUT . . . it would put him in a serious hole trying to pay for college. His only recourse might be to file a lawsuit to reclaim the money. Would my nephew have a case?

This is the crux of the issue.

Here, your nephew would have a case … better, here if she took one penny from that account, your brother could have the DA prosecute her for custodial interference. The judge said only your brother can make decisions for the lad. But remember, the laws of your locality may be different.

Has anyone asked her why?

This sounds a lot like fraud to me. If she considered it her money, it should have been included in the divorce settlement.

My nephew did, amidst his protests. She claims that she wants to be attached to the account “in case anything happens to his father”. We don’t take that as a veiled threat but rather a weak excuse.

She is a habitual liar, as well as suffering from mental issues. However, she also has anger issues, and basically brow beats her kids (as well as her ex-husband, my brother, before the divorce) until they submit to her wishes, mostly out of frustration in dealing with her.

She will do anything she can, even at the expense of her kids, to “stick it” to my brother. She really is a despicable person.

Logically, this seem correct, but sometimes law is not logical. To my knowledge, it wasn’t expressly written in the divorce agreement, and she WAS able to add her name to the account. Does that make her executor of the funds? I hope not.

The simplest solution would be to move the money, but my nephew wants to see how low she can sink. He may prove a point, at his expense.

I may have to start a separate thread going into detail the issues she has had in the past, with her family, friends, ex-husband and kids. Some really disturbing stuff. In my opinion, she mentally abused the kids for the last 10 years, and the kids are still afraid to completely stand up against her.

They still can not see her for the real person that she is. They can’t, or at least they don’t yet want to.

I didn’t know a minor could open an account. The more you know…

I think it would be unwise to have the son withdraw from the account with the intention of depriving the mother of the funds. That just seems bad to me.

While I respect your opinion, I think you are not aware of the whole story.

During the divorce, she expressed that she should not have to pay for college. She wanted it written into the agreement. After the negotiation was over, it was written into the agreement that she is responsible for 25% of the college costs. This was capped at $3K per year, so she will probably end up paying less than 25%. In fact, she won’t be required to pay for either of her sons’ senior year.

She gets paid alimony on a monthly basis. There was a lump sum settlement that my brother paid her to live in the house. That was nearly $60K. She works. She lives rent free. She also knows that the money in her son’s account was his.

The ONLY reason she would want to put her name in the account is to possibly use this money to pay HER debt. She has more than enough money to pay her share of college without resorting to taking her son’s money.

She only wants to make it harder for my brother to afford school. It is definitely clear that it is NOT her money.

What is the custody status? That may help find a solution.

My brother is the custodial parent.

However, even though it was my brother that helped his son set-up the account, the bank allowed his mother to be linked to his account because it was not preventable – she is his mother. The fear is that even as a non-custodial parent, the bank allowed her to link into the account, thus having access to make a withdrawal (but never a deposit). She hasn’t done this yet, as I’m sure she’s aware that this would destroy any chance of a future relationship with her son. But I don’t put anything past her. She is very capable of doing anything she wants, because she believes it’s right, no matter who tells her otherwise.

I think the best course is to contact the bank to make sure they know she has no custodial rights, and that she should be removed from the account, if that is the father’s wish. A letter from an attorney would be helpful here (and also, contacting one to verify the legality). Letters from lawyers tend to have a meaningful effect (warranted or not) from other parties. I find it hard to believe that a non-custodial parent has the right to attach herself to the account, but I’m not a lawyer. They probably just assumed it when they added her.