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Can I take half the money out of our joint bank account?

By Spodek Law Group | July 27, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 13, 2023)

Last Updated on: 13th October 2023, 02:11 am

Can I Take Half the Money Out of Our Joint Bank Account During a Divorce?

Going through a divorce can be an incredibly difficult and emotional time. One of the many things you have to sort out is your finances – and what to do with any joint bank accounts you share with your soon-to-be ex. It’s a common question many people going through a divorce ask: can I take half the money out of our joint bank account?The short answer is – it depends. There are a few factors to consider, which we’ll break down in this article.

What Is a Joint Bank Account?

First, let‘s define what a joint bank account is. A joint bank account is a bank account that has two or more owners. Both account holders have equal rights to deposit, withdraw, and manage the money in the account.Joint bank accounts are commonly used by married couples, partners, roommates, or family members. The idea is that it allows both people access to the money to pay for shared expenses like rent, utilities, groceries, etc.

Joint Accounts and Divorce

During a divorce, most courts will consider money in a joint bank account to be marital property that needs to be divided equitably between spouses as part of the divorce settlement.The general rule of thumb is that each spouse is entitled to 50% of the money in the joint account, regardless of who deposited more money into the account during the marriage.However, it gets tricky if one spouse empties or withdraws a large sum from the joint account without the other spouse‘s knowledge or consent. This unfortunately does happen during some divorces.If you discover your spouse withdrew a large amount of cash from your joint account, don’t panic. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Document the account balance: Print out or save records showing the account balance before the money was withdrawn. This will help show if funds are missing.
  • Talk to your divorce attorney: Let your attorney know as soon as possible if your spouse empties a joint account. They can advise you on next steps legally.
  • The court can order repayment: If the withdrawal is brought to the court’s attention, generally the spouse who took the money can be ordered to repay half of what they withdrew back into the account.
  • It may be considered contempt of court: If the divorce is already filed and there is an injunction prohibiting asset transfers, emptying a joint account could potentially be considered contempt of court.

The bottom line is – talk to your attorney before you make any big money moves with joint accounts to understand how it could impact your divorce proceedings and settlement. Don‘t try to DIY this!

Can I Legally Take Half the Money?

So back to the original question – can you just take half the money out of the joint account yourself in anticipation of divorce?The answer is maybe, but be very careful! Here are some important factors to consider:

  • Has the divorce been filed yet? If no paperwork has been submitted to the court yet, technically you may be within your legal rights to withdraw half the funds from the joint account. However, talk to your attorney first!
  • Is there a court order in place? Many times once a divorce is filed, the court will issue temporary orders prohibiting either spouse from transferring, withdrawing, or hiding assets. If an order like this is in place, taking half the money could be a big legal mistake.
  • How will it impact negotiations? Even if you are legally able to take half, how will it impact your future divorce proceedings and negotiations? Your spouse may not take kindly to you emptying the account and it could cause things to become more contentious. Think very carefully about your end goal.
  • Consult your divorce attorney! Seriously, before withdrawing any money, talk to your attorney about the laws in your state and if it’s advisable. Every divorce situation is different.

How to Protect Yourself

If you have concerns over a joint bank account during a separation or divorce, there are a few things you can consider to protect yourself:

  • Open a new individual account: Open a new checking and savings account in your name only and transfer your paychecks or income source to this new account. This ensures you have access to cash that is just yours during the divorce process.
  • Ask the bank to freeze the account: You can request that the bank temporarily freeze the joint account so neither spouse can access the funds. Talk to your attorney first before freezing any assets.
  • Request regular account statements: Keep a close eye on the account by requesting monthly paper statements be mailed to you. Online statements can be deleted or altered.
  • Set up account alerts: Set up text or email alerts for any withdrawals or deposits over a certain dollar amount from the joint account.
  • Make copies of all statements: Before filing for divorce, make copies or downloads of past statements to document account balances and transactions.
  • Consider separate accounts going forward: After the divorce is finalized, strongly consider keeping separate accounts if remarried or in a new relationship. Joint accounts with new partners should be approached with caution.

How Joint Accounts Are Divided in Divorce

So how does the court actually divide up a joint bank account during divorce proceedings? Here are some key things to know:

  • The account is marital property: Almost always, a joint account will be considered marital or community property, regardless of who deposited the funds.
  • Each spouse is entitled to 50%: Absent any extenuating circumstances, each spouse is entitled to 50% of the balance in the joint account.
  • One spouse can be ordered to repay the account: If one spouse empties the account without consent, the courts can order them to repay their withdrawn amount to restore the 50/50 balance.
  • Extra funds may be considered gifts: If one spouse withdraws more than 50% of the joint funds, the excess amount may be deemed a “gift” to that spouse.
  • Interest and dividends: Any interest or dividends earned by the joint account during the divorce process may be divided 50/50 as well.
  • Get it in writing: The division of bank accounts and other assets should be clearly documented in the final divorce decree or settlement agreement.

Closing a Joint Account After Divorce

Once the divorce is finalized and the joint account has been divided, it’s generally a good idea to close the joint account permanently.Here are some tips on how to close a joint bank account after divorce:

  • Notify your bank: Contact your bank and inform them you are divorcing and wish to close the joint account. They will explain the process.
  • Withdraw remaining funds: After the account is divided per your divorce agreement, withdraw any remaining funds and deposit into your new individual accounts.
  • Destroy cards and checks: Cut up any debit cards, ATM cards, and remaining checks linked to the joint account.
  • Stop automatic payments: If there are any recurring automatic payments linked to the joint account, contact those companies and provide new account details.
  • File final paperwork: Review and sign any final account closure paperwork provided by your bank. This officially terminates the account.
  • Get written confirmation: Request a written account closure confirmation letter from your bank for your records.

Closing the joint account is an important final step to financially separating from your former spouse. Having separate accounts going forward helps provide a fresh start.

Alternatives to Closing a Joint Account

For some divorced couples, keeping an existing joint account open temporarily may make sense, especially if you have kids. Here are some examples:

  • To save on closing fees and opening a new account.
  • To continue paying for a shared mortgage or bills for a short time.
  • To manage joint expenses related to minor children.

However, it‘s wise to limit the time period and amount of funds kept in a post-divorce joint account. Consult your attorney on any legal risks. Also set clear boundaries and expectations with your ex on how the account will be used.

Getting Professional Advice

As you can see, dividing joint bank accounts during divorce can get complicated quickly. Every situation is unique and brings its own set of financial challenges.It’s highly advisable to work closely with an experienced divorce attorney and financial advisor when navigating divorce and splitting marital assets like joint accounts. They can help you:

  • Understand your rights and options under the law.
  • Make smart decisions about accounts that protect your interests.
  • Document and divide assets fairly according to the law.
  • Minimize financial disputes with your ex whenever possible.
  • Create a new financial life after divorce.

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