It’s natural to want to protect yourself during a divorce. Fears about whether you’ll have access to your money are common. Fears that you won’t have enough money to live on are also common. It’s also quite normal to get angry enough to want to ensure your spouse doesn’t see “one red hot cent.”
Yet you should slow down before you move to empty bank accounts. If you do it the wrong way, there can be serious consequences.
Your Personal Bank Account
Money acquired in your personal account prior to the date of your separation or divorce filing is still technically marital property, yet you can generally continue to use your own personal bank account normally throughout the course of your divorce.
If you’ve both had separate bank accounts all this time then financial matters will be somewhat less complicated. You should still figure out who will be responsible for what bills while divorce negotiations are taking place.
Your spouse has no legal ability to use the funds in an account that is not jointly held. However, if you have given your spouse access to a debit card linked to one of those accounts you should cancel that card right away.
Your Joint Bank Account
Every dollar in your joint bank account is undisputed marital property. That means your spouse has the right to at least half of it.
Does this mean you can immediately withdraw half the money? Not so fast. You should consult with an attorney before you try. While you can often do this without penalty, you should consult your attorney first.
In some cases it’s more advantageous to use that account only for continuing to pay for necessities like rent, mortgages, utilities, or groceries. This would usually be the case when one spouse works and the other doesn’t. If you know your spouse and children rely on your income to survive then you need to leave that account alone until at least temporary orders for child and spousal support have been agreed upon, set, and approved of by the courts.
In most cases, it will be wise to open a new account in your own name and begin depositing all or most of your paycheck into that account instead. Yet at no point are you going to want to try to deprive your spouse of all the money. The court can sanction you for this behavior.
If you’ve had separate bank accounts all along but have always used the joint account for bills and savings continue to do that until the divorce settlement is finalized.
Other Bank Accounts
Retirement accounts, investment accounts, and other types of bank accounts should be left untouched until your divorce is complete. These accounts will have to be addressed in your formal divorce settlement.
If you try to withdraw funds from them too early you can both deprive yourself of the interest income they would be making and make it seem as if you are trying to deprive your spouse of assets they are legally entitled to. This can, again, lead to sanctions from the divorce court judge.
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