For many married couples, it just makes sense to have a joint bank account to manage the family’s finances. These types of accounts can be quite useful during a marriage, but during times of conflict or divorce, they can become weapons if used incorrectly.
About joint accounts
When two people have a joint bank account, it means they’re both owners of the account and both have an equal right to the funds in said account. So, technically, either owner can empty the account at any time, no matter who deposited the funds.
During a divorce, the court considers any funds and assets in your joint account to be marital property. Those funds belong to both spouses, even if just one spouse was responsible for the majority of the deposits. Because this joint account is considered marital property, in the event of a divorce, the court considers that money as belonging to both spouses. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule – your Rockville divorce attorney can tell you more.
Emptying a joint account = big consequences
If one spouse cleans out a joint bank account and then files for divorce, or withdraws money from an account against a judge’s orders, he or she can face serious repercussions (depending on the circumstances and what the money was used for). The court may order him or her to replace the funds, even if it’s already been spent. Or, depending on the circumstances, the court may order the person to pay additional fines, or the attorney fees of the other party.
The court could also hand down penalties, like adjusting the division of property to make up for the removed funds.
Here’s an example: Taylor withdraws $10,000 from a joint savings account to go on a vacation just days before filing for divorce from Pat. The court may punish Taylor by awarding Pat $10,000 worth of property that Taylor may have otherwise received had she not taken the $10K from their joint account.
Protecting your assets during a divorce
As you can see, it’s important to remember that your joint bank account is considered marital property. Just like any other asset, it’s crucial to keep it safe so that, in the event of a divorce, it can be divided fairly. It’s not uncommon for judges to put orders in place at the beginning of a divorce case that prevent both account owners from accessing the funds, except for specific approved reasons.
Once a divorce begins, for safety, each person may want to move direct deposits or withdrawals to other bank accounts. Or, they may agree to close the joint account and split the funds between their two separate accounts. However, before you or your almost-ex divide the funds in a joint account, it’s important you talk to an attorney first. Moving marital assets around without authorization, whether it’s you or your ex, may not be looked on favorably by the court.
The Rockville divorce attorneys at McCabe Russell PA can help you work through the complex financial issues that can come with a Maryland divorce. We work hard for you and your family’s best interests. To speak with an experienced lawyer serving Montgomery County clients, please call 443-917-3347 or fill out our contact form. We also maintain offices in Bethesda, Columbia and Fulton.