The news of divorce can cause some people to act irrationally, taking money out of the bank because they fear they will be left penniless. Others may begin separating joint finances without court approval, while some spouses are simply vindictive. The good news is that if your spouse makes a large withdrawal from your joint accounts during the divorce, the court will probably hold them accountable.
Who Owns the Money in the Bank?
Any funds in your bank accounts could belong to you, your spouse, or both of you. It's up to the court to determine whether the funds are community property or separate property. Community property is owned by both spouses, while separate property belongs to one spouse only.
Since Washington is a community property state, the court considers all property and debt accumulated during the marriage—including both spouses' income—as community property. Anything acquired before marriage remains the separate property of the spouse who owns it.
However, separate property can become community property if it is mixed with community finances. For example, if your spouse received a cash gift and deposited it into your joint bank account, the court may consider the gift community property and entitle you to half the balance.
Consequences of Emptying a Joint Bank Account
In Washington, any assets or funds in a joint account are considered community property, even if one spouse contributed far more to the account than the other. If your spouse removes all of the funds, they still owe you your share. In fact, spouses who drain accounts in order to hide assets or deprive the other spouse could end up paying more in the divorce settlement.
If your spouse attempts to take or hide community property, they may be ordered to:
- Replace the funds in the account. The judge may order your spouse to put the money back, even if it has already been spent elsewhere or will incur withdrawal penalties wherever it has been invested.
- Pay alimony. It may be more beneficial to you to have the funds repaid through alimony, giving you a dependable income.
- Pay court costs. Your spouse could be ordered to pay some of your legal costs, including lawyer fees, private investigators, filing fees, and forensic accountants.
It's worth noting that Washington law requires the "just and equitable" division of your property in a divorce. "Equitable" doesn't mean everything should be split 50/50, but fairly distributed according to each person's circumstances. The primary legal concern in divorce is protecting the economic futures of each party, preventing either spouse from being left penniless when the marriage is over.
A spouse who intentionally withdraws funds to keep them from a partner won't be looked on favorably by the court. That said, it's a good idea to open your own bank and credit accounts upon separation. Using accounts in your name only protects you if your spouse drains joint accounts or tries to use them to monitor your spending.
Working With An Asset Division Attorney Can Help
No spouse should be expected to go through a painful and complicated divorce alone. At the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny, we take over the legal and financial aspects of your divorce, giving you the time you need to prepare for your new life. To arrange a private consultation, call our office in Bellevue, Washington, or use our online contact form to send an email. Our attorneys are experienced in high-value divorce cases and understand the necessary steps to keep your split fair and equitable.