Can my husband liquidate our bank accounts?

Posted on Jul 22, 2019 by Katie Carter

In divorce cases, nastiness abounds. Some cases surprise me by the levels to which the participants will sink in the name of revenge, but most follow a fairly predictable pattern. Though it’s certainly scary and unsettling to be caught in the middle of it, in most cases, rest assured – it all works itself out.

One of the first things that occurs to most people is that they may be talking about divorce and separation, but they still have joint bank accounts. If you do much research at all on divorce and separation, you’ll find out pretty quickly that anything you earn, purchase, or acquire post-separation is separate property – so it makes sense that someone (especially the higher earning spouse) who is separated would want to have his (or her) paychecks direct deposited somewhere else.

That creates a whole host of issues, especially if you’re trying to maintain a household and suddenly the money has been withdrawn. And worse – if he not only has his paychecks direct deposited elsewhere but he ALSO empties the bank account entirely – you can find yourself in hot water pretty quickly.

Can he just do that? Can he liquidate our bank accounts?

Well, yeah. There’s nothing inherently “illegal” about it. You guys are both joint account holders, so you have equal access to the funds in the account.

Just because he liquidated it, though, does that mean that the money is his? No. The whole “equitable distribution” part of the divorce hasn’t happened yet, and that’s where we (either by agreement or by a court order) determine who receives what.

The money that was in the bank account as of the date of separation is marital, if the money in the accounts was earned during the marriage. It doesn’t even actually matter about whose name is on the account – what matters is the origin of those funds.

So, yeah, he can liquidate it. But he will have to account for it later.

That’s all well and fine, but he left me without money! What can I do now?

No, I get it. Saying “we’ll work it all out later” isn’t that reassuring, right? Especially if RIGHT NOW you need to pay the mortgage and buy the groceries and take the kids to the doctor for their multitude of well child checks.

What can you do? What can you do, like, right now? Well, there’s a couple of options. Either we ask – in the form of a separation agreement – and get an agreement in place that divides everything, or we go to court.

It may take awhile, either way. It’s not like there’s a button I can press that will make this happen quickly or immediately. It’s part of equitable distribution, and that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It also doesn’t happen right this very second.

But if it’s critical – it’s best to get started right away.

What about his paychecks? Can he have them direct deposited somewhere else?

Yes, he can do that, too. Like I said – it’s separate property, once you’ve separated. But the way to rectify the imbalance here is through spousal and child support.

That can happen much more quickly than fixing the liquidated bank account issue. Once we file for divorce – if you take the litigated track – we can schedule a pendente lite hearing (that’s Latin for “while the litigation is pending”) and we can ask for temporary child and spousal support.

Yes – it’s temporary. Final child and spousal support will be determined during equitable distribution with the rest of all that property division stuff, but you can at least get something in place now so that you don’t have to worry about how to keep the lights on and get food on the table.

Look, the truth is – things are messy in the beginning. Tensions are running high, and everyone is suspicious of everyone else. It’s a challenge. But, generally speaking, tensions deescalate over time and everyone settles into a new normal. It won’t stay this contentious forever, and, mostly, we’re able to work out an agreement.

It’s scary, but you’ll be okay, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now. What can you do in the meantime? Get as informed as possible. Request a free copy of our divorce book  and consider attending one of our divorce seminars. Knowledge is power, and the more you know the better position you’ll be in.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.