Joint accounts can be tricky. And when you’re relying on your joint account to pay necessary living expenses and your spouse turns around and empties it, they can be downright terrifying.
So you need to know what your rights are, what you can and can’t do, and what to do if your spouse doesn’t play fair.
You Have a Legal Right to Funds in a Joint Account
Even if your spouse was the breadwinner. Even if you never directly made a deposit in your life.
This doesn’t mean the money goes to whomever withdraws every last cent first. It means that because you and your spouse each has a legal right there are consequences when one spouse decides the other doesn’t matter.
Later, the judge can respond by making the offending spouse pay the aggrieved spouse’s legal fees. He or she may also give the aggrieved spouse a greater share of the marital property to make up for it. Or the judge can order you to return the money.
Get Lawyers Involved Early
With the help of your lawyer you can usually get a temporary protective order which bars both parties from touching the account save for approved reasons. “Approved reasons” usually covers things like household expenses, so you don’t have to worry that you won’t be able to use the money to pay the light bill.
Banks won’t honor these orders, but they should make your spouse think twice before he or she attempts to empty a joint account. Violating court orders has severe consequences.
But if you can’t get the order filed fast enough then having a lawyer on hand to get you relief is the fastest way to protect yourself.
To make sure you don’t get accused of using too much of the account you should keep a record of every check you write from it. Make sure you’re only spending on necessities and keep any receipts so you can meet any challenge that arises.
This is usually smarter than withdrawing half of the money, since while “half” is a good rule of thumb it’s not always a hard-and-fast principle.
Get Separate Funds
The quicker you can stop relying on the joint bank account, the better. It’s usually wise to open your own accounts as soon as you know you’re getting a divorce, even if you don’t have very much income to deposit inside of them.
Eventually, the joint account will have to close. And the surest way to protect yourself is to have some money on hand that your ex can’t touch. Keep in mind that separate accounts don’t necessarily keep the judge from allocating marital assets in those accounts to your spouse, but anything you earn or receive after the divorce gets filed should be safe.
Got questions? Contact our law office today to learn more.