This is Tip #8 of a series of articles on how to prepare yourself for divorce. Today’s tip assumes that you already have been able to gather all of the financial statements for your marital accounts, and at least make copies of those statements. Now, your job is to determine what to do with all of these accounts.
It is an unfortunate reality that one of the first things that some spouses do when they learn or decide that a divorce is imminent is to empty out or transfer the financial accounts. This is typically done after receiving particularly bad advice from an adversarial lawyer or a well meaning, but poorly informed friend. In a perfect world, neither party would touch the financial accounts except to pay normal household bills until after the divorce is over. However, if this were a perfect world, you would not be reading this guide, and I would be in another line of work because divorce lawyers would be unnecessary!
I do not recommend that you clean out the accounts. Doing so will immediately escalate the conflict and stress of the separation and divorce. If you are considering a collaborative divorce (which I recommend), then this may be a quick way to have your spouse not trust you and breakdown the collaborative process before it even starts. Also, if you end up in court, cleaning out the accounts is not always looked upon favorably, and could subject you to sanctions.
However, you do want to protect yourself from your spouse cleaning out your accounts. If you have a reasonable fear that your spouse will raid the accounts, the only solution is to remove one half of the funds from the accounts and put them in a new account in your own name. Do not hide, dispose, or waste the money. Document carefully where every penny is spent because you will likely need to make an accounting of it later on. Additionally, you should not do this for the regular checking account out of which the household expenses are paid unless there is a substantial balance in the account over and above the amount needed for paying the current month’s bills. You do not want to take action that would cause checks to bounce.
I don’t make this as a blanket suggestion. If the money can be kept there and neither party will remove it, this is preferred. Another option for certain types of accounts is to put a freeze on the account. Obviously that is only practical for accounts that are not regularly needed to pay bills and regular expenses.
Before you decide how to handle your financial accounts, consult with a lawyer. If they suggest take all of the money out without a good reason, I would seriously consider whether that lawyer shares your desire for a civilized divorce.
The information in this post was prepared in part with information originally posted on the Alabama Family Law Blog.