How can I Afford a Divorce if my Spouse Controls all the Money? Ask a Family Law Attorney.

This article describes how a party to a divorce might obtain initial financial assistance until a final award of assets and/or support is issued.

Far too common a stay-at-home spouse is subjected to economic abuse by the working spouse.  In a marriage, economic abuse can occur when one spouse unfairly controls all access to the marital assets.  This is typically seen where one spouse is the sole producer of income and the other is a homemaker.  In cases of economic abuse, the homemaker may feel trapped because he/she believes there is no way out of the marriage.  The homemaker might ask, “How can I afford to get a divorce if my spouse earns and controls all or most of the money?” 

It is helpful to understand that Michigan law generally treats the 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 check, does not mean that it is his/her separate asset.*  It is likely both their money!

Even so, in order to pursue a divorce, the homemaker needs access to the marital funds.  Pending the ultimate award of assets, spousal support, and/or child support, a homemaker likely needs money to maintain his/her station in life.  How can this be achieved?  The following are a few methods that 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 breadwinner to maintain a level of financial security for the other party and/or the parties’ minor children.  This could include forcing the breadwinner 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 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.****  One should not have to feel trapped in a marriage that is undoubtedly over.


* 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 the above blog article shall not constitute legal advice.  Accurate legal advice should be given on a case-by-case basis as it’s accuracy is relative to the particular facts of the given matter.


Founder of Guardian Law, Anthony A. DeMatteis, is an attorney who concentrates in the area of Family Law.  Mr. DeMatteis promotes peaceful, constructive resolutions in domestic matters.  He practices in Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, and Livingston Counties.  His office and contact information is as follows:

Guardian Law
Law Office of Anthony A. DeMatteis, Esq.
14630 East Nine Mile Rd.
Eastpointe, MI 48021

(586) 662-1207; or
(586) 354-8616

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