For many married couples, a joint bank account makes it easier to manage the family’s finances. While these types of accounts are useful during the marriage, they can often be a huge source of conflict during a divorce case.
Understanding Joint Accounts
Whenever two people are joint owners in a bank account, each has an equal right to the funds contained therein. This means that either owner would be allowed to empty the account at any time, regardless of which person deposited the funds.
During a divorce, any assets or funds contained in a joint account are considered marital property. These funds belong to both spouses, even though one person may have been responsible for the majority of the deposits. This means that even if one person removes all of the funds, a court will still consider that money to belong to both divorcing spouses.
Consequences of Emptying Accounts
When one spouse empties a bank account prior to filing for divorce, or removes money contrary to a judge’s orders, there are often severe repercussions. The person who removed the money could be ordered to replace it, even if it has already been spent. Alternatively, the court could order sanctions against that person, and require him or her to pay fines or pay the attorney’s fees of the other party.
Additionally, the court may penalize the person who removed the funds by adjusting the division of the marital property. For example, if a husband removes $10,000 from a savings account a week prior to filing for divorce, his wife may receive $10,000 worth of property that her husband might have received in a divorce settlement had he not removed the funds from their shared account.
Because the funds in a joint account are marital property, it is important to keep these assets safe so that they can be fairly divided. Often, a judge will order mutual restraining orders at the beginning of the case which prevent both account owners from removing the funds except for approved reasons.
Once a divorce begins, money which is not considered separate property should be moved to another account. Additionally, it may be best to change the direct deposit account for paychecks and other regular deposits. Alternatively, the couple could also agree to close the joint account and split the funds between two separate accounts. This would prevent each person from having unjust access to family funds.
Before taking any steps to divide or split the funds in a joint account, it is imperative that you speak with your attorney. If you or your soon-to-be ex takes any money out of the joint account or moves around funds without authorization, there could be serious consequences for these actions.
The attorneys at Pacific Northwest Family Law help all types of couples negotiate the many complicated financial issues involved in a divorce. Our experienced Washington lawyers can help you with all of your family’s needs, and will work hard to help you achieve results.
For help with your situation, contact us today by calling 509-572-3700.