Many married couples find joint bank accounts the easiest way to manage family finances. However, no matter how surprised you are (or aren’t) by a divorce, it’s important to act swiftly and prudently to safeguard your finances – even if you don’t think your soon-to-be-ex is the vindictive type.
Know that if your ex does empty your joint accounts during the divorce, they would likely regret it.
Our East Brunswick divorce lawyers know that money is a concern for both sides during a divorce. However, if one party withdraws a significant sum from joint funds for any reason just before or during a divorce, the court will likely hold them to account for it.
What is a Joint Bank Account?
Anytime two individuals are joint owners of a bank account, they share equal rights to the money. Either person can freely make deposits – or withdraw funds – without express permission from the other. That means technically, either one can empty that account any time they wish.
Can You Empty Your Bank Account Before Divorce?
However, doing so just before or during a divorce is going to have consequences because the contents of that account will almost certainly be considered marital property. That means it will be an equitable division in the divorce settlement. This is true even if one person contributed far more to the account than the other.
A 2018 Bank of America survey revealed about 28 percent of millennials forego joint bank accounts when they marry, opting instead to keep their finances entirely separate. This can reduce conflict if you have two working spouses who contribute roughly the same to joint expenses. However, you should know even that won’t necessarily shield that money from equitable division in a divorce. Funds in separate accounts can still be considered marital property.
What is Marital Property?
Marital property refers to assets that belong to both spouses.
This could be:
- Money in bank accounts
- Retirement funds
- The home you share
- Or your vehicles
Barring explicit instructions spelled out in a premarital agreement or post-marital agreement, marital property is to be divided equitably between spouses.
Marital property is typically property that is acquired during the marriage. Property that is separately owned prior to a marriage is usually considered separate property (think third-party gifts or inheritances). Joint bank accounts will almost certainly be considered marital property.
What is Considered Equitable Distribution?
Equitable distribution considers:
- The duration of the marriage
- The age and health of both parties
- The income/property brought into the marriage by both parties
- The standard of living established during the marriage
- The economic circumstances (including income and earning capacity) of each party at the time of division
- The present value of the property
- The tax consequences proposed by distribution
- The need for a parent with physical custody of a child to own/occupy the marital residence and/or to use/own the household effects
Taking out and spending or hiding joint account funds during a divorce deprives the court of the opportunity to weigh all of this. There are often consequences.
What Are the Consequences of Emptying a Joint Bank Account?
If one spouse empties an entire joint bank account - particularly with the express intention of depriving the other spouse of it and/or in defiance of a judge’s orders – there will likely be major consequences. The court will probably not only offset this amount in the remaining asset and debt division but also penalize the act with fines or an order to pay the other side’s attorney fees.
For instance, if a wife withdraws $15,000 from joint savings account a week before filing for divorce, her husband may in turn receive $15,000 worth of property her husband might have otherwise received in the divorce had she not removed those funds AND the court may order her to pay her ex’s attorney’s fees.
Other ways this could hurt your divorce settlement:
- Require you to repay the missing money through monthly alimony payments (or reduce the alimony award you might have otherwise received)
- Require you to pay some of your spouse’s bills (lawyers, forensic accountants, investigators, expert witnesses, etc.)
- Allocate more assets to your spouse than originally planned
- Impose pricey sanctions
That is why it is important to consult with a divorce attorney if you have questions about when you can withdraw funds from a joint account during a divorce.
Give our experienced firm a call at (732) 810-0034 or fill out our online contact form in order to get started on your case today.