In some divorce cases, the end is a slow crawl that is obvious to both parties. In others, one party is blindsided by the other’s announcement that they want to end the marriage. In the second scenario, the spouse who wishes to divorce sometimes adds insult to injury by wiping out the joint bank account and getting a jumpstart on their new life.
If you’ve been left with an empty bank account because of your ex-partner, you may have options. Call Coumanis & York at 251-990-3083 to schedule a consultation today.
Equitable Distribution of Property
In Alabama, marital property is distributed in an equitable manner. This means that both parties have a right to the funds in a joint account, but both parties don’t automatically get half of the money in the joint account. Money is distributed based on a variety of factors, including each party’s earning capability, each party’s contributions to the marriage, and each party’s health.
If one party has a much higher income than the other and their own separate assets, the court is unlikely to look favorably upon them draining the joint account. On the other hand, if one party has no income and must withdraw money to pay for marital bills after the other partner leaves, that may be a fair use of the money.
Moving Separate Property Through the Account
This also raises the question of marital property versus separate property. Money in a joint account isn’t necessarily marital property. Consider, for example, a situation in which one party has a large inheritance. They may move the money through the joint account to have access to it via a debit card. However, it would still be considered their own separate property.
Determining Why the Money Was Withdrawn
The court will also look at why the money was withdrawn, as we touched on before. Consider a partner who wants to divorce their spouse and start a new life with the girlfriend or boyfriend they’ve been keeping on the side. They drain the account with the intent of hiring the best divorce attorney they can and ensuring that their spouse has no money to hire an attorney. They do not drain the account to fulfill their financial obligations or take care of their family—they do it to keep the other spouse from having access to the money.
This is obviously different from a spouse who is a stay-at-home parent and only has access to the joint account. Their partner may have separate accounts from which they can draw funds. When their high-earning partner stops paying household bills, the stay-at-home partner may need to drain the account to pay the mortgage, car note, and other bills. This isn’t considered a spiteful or improper use of marital funds.
Discuss Your Options with Your Attorney
If you’re looking at a bank account with a zero balance and panicking, try to take a deep breath. Know that every divorce attorney and family law judge in the country is familiar with this situation. It is not uncommon for one partner to drain the account in an attempt to exert power over the other partner or keep them from hiring an attorney.
Attorneys know that this happens, and they can work with you to ensure you get the representation you need in this situation. Having a spouse who acts unethically during divorce shouldn’t keep you from getting high-quality representation and a fair divorce decree.
If your spouse has wrongfully taken money from a joint account, disclose this to your attorney. The money may be viewed as an advance on their part of the property division settlement, or it can be used as a bargaining chip to help you get what you want in other areas of the divorce. All of this of course depends heavily on your specific circumstances.
Find Out How Coumanis & York Can Help You
If you’ve been blindsided by your spouse’s request to divorce and/or their decision to clear out your joint bank account, take a few minutes to think about your next steps. An attorney can help you fight for what you deserve. Schedule a consultation now by calling Coumanis & York at 251-990-3083 or reaching out to our team .