What do I do if my husband cuts me off from the marital money?

When many women show up at our office, they have no idea how they’ll ever afford to hire an attorney to represent them. They know that having an attorney is important, and they feel strongly that they will be at a significant disadvantage if they don’t hire one, but they’re not sure how to make it all work financially.

Most of the time, when a husband and wife separate, especially if the husband was the primary wage earner, he will cut her off from access to “his” money. While it’s true that, post-separation at least, what you earn does become “yours,” and “his,” in most cases he can’t just leave you destitute. In most cases, he will have to provide some sort of financial assistance. Financial assistance can come in all sorts of different forms, from child and spousal support, to payouts from marital retirement accounts and redistribution of other marital assets.

That being said, it may take awhile before he will be required to share anything with you. If your bank accounts are in both of your names, for example, he can wipe out the entire balance, leaving you with nothing. It won’t be until we can get into court that we can request that he not waste marital assets (spend uncontrollably or sell things that should later be divided), and that he reimburse you for your marital share of whatever he’s already taken.

The best advice I can give is to be proactive. If you’re considering separating from your husband, it’s a good idea to be prepared ahead of time before you give him the news. Assume that he will cut you off, and make sure you have a little fund of your own on the side. Of course, if you empty the bank account, you’re going to have to gear up for a full-fledged war. You probably don’t want to do that. If you take the money out of the joint account, it’s probably best not to take more than half.

An even better suggestion would be to build up your reserves gradually, over a period of time. Every time you go to Target, for example, request $20 cash back. At the grocery store, take an extra $50. Chances are, he won’t notice this money missing, and you can build up your own cash stockpile, just in case.

Of course, you may be reading this AFTER your husband has already cut you off, and my advice isn’t particularly helpful after the fact. If you find yourself in this tricky position, there isn’t a whole lot you can do. You’ll have to get into court, and quickly, in order to hold him responsible for his behavior.

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