When Is A Good Time To Withdraw Money From Joint Accounts?

When Is A Good Time To Withdraw Money From Joint Accounts?

It’s no secret that going through a divorce can be expensive.  Living on your own, rent for a potential new living space, and legal fees can lead to financial stress.  If you and your spouse have one or more joint accounts, you may consider withdrawing some of that money to help cover your expenses.  Here are some things to consider before withdrawing from a joint account.

Disclaimer

The best advice is to consult an attorney on the specifics of your case before withdrawing anything.  The contents of this post/article are general and apply to most cases, but may not be applicable to your specific situation.

The Law on Joint Accounts

Once an action for divorce has commenced, a set of automatic orders are applied to both parties.  These orders bar either spouse from removing money from their joint or individual accounts (except for household expenses, regular business expenses, and attorney’s fees).  Therefore, any large withdrawals should be done before the action has commenced.

If you are a joint owner of an account, and you are not bound by any automatic orders, you can legally withdraw all money in the account.  However, in most cases, judges rule that joint accounts should be split equally between the parties.  This means that if you remove more than half of the money in the account, in preparation for the upcoming divorce, you will likely be forced to pay the excess (amount exceeding half of the value of the account) to your spouse at the end of the case. 

For example, let’s say you and your spouse have a joint checking account worth $20,000.  If you remove $15,000 before commencing the action, you will likely be required to pay $5,000 to your spouse at the end of the case.  However, if you remove $10,000 before commencing the action, your spouse will simply keep what remains in the account and you won’t have to pay anything extra.

The easiest solution is to remove no more than half of the money in the account; you will likely face no legal repercussions for doing so.

Practical Considerations: Avoid Starting a War

                In a divorce, there is more to consider than simply what is legal.  In many cases, if one spouse removes funds from an account without discussing it first, the other spouse sees it as an attack and seeks vengeance in other ways.  The last thing anyone wants is a race to clean out every account the parties own; there are other ways to go about removing the funds.

                Perhaps the best option is to have a civil discussion with your spouse about splitting the joint accounts before the action is commenced so that you can both live comfortably during the divorce.  Coming to an agreement like this can reduce financial stress and start the divorce off in a cooperative mood.  However, in many cases this is not an option.  If there is already bad blood between the parties, a civil discussion may be a fantasy.

                If a civil discussion is off the table, but you don’t want to risk starting a war with your spouse, you could choose not to take any funds out of the account.  The automatic orders allow both parties to use their accounts to pay attorney’s fees and reasonable expenses at will.  While this would allow you to pay your expenses without removing large sums of money, this could lead to more litigation (and more attorney’s fees) if your spouse feels that something you spent money on was unreasonable.  Additionally, you risk your spouse removing money from the joint account, leaving you without enough money to pay your expenses.  Even if your spouse’s withdrawal is in violation of the automatic orders, you can be left in a difficult financial situation for a significant period of time.

Conclusion

                While it’s fairly clear when one can take money out of a joint account, it’s not always easy to decide when one should take money from that account.  No solution is perfect, but it’s important that everyone makes the decision that works best for them.  Before making a decision, one should discuss the specific details of their case with an attorney. 

For those considering divorce or experiencing other family issues, contact Fass & Greenberg today to schedule a consultation. Our experienced matrimonial attorneys are prepared to help you have the most successful case possible.

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