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Will your spouse face penalties for draining your joint accounts?

On Behalf of | Sep 12, 2020 | Divorce

No matter how difficult the end of your marriage was, you likely hoped that you and your spouse could approach your divorce with civility. Yet, you may have discovered that they cleared out your joint bank accounts, leaving you high and dry as proceedings begin.

While you might fear that your spouse’s actions will give them an advantage during your divorce, they will end up facing consequences for making off with your shared funds. And those consequences could impact the terms of your settlement.

Joint accounts are community property

Because Washington is a community property state, you and your spouse will receive an equal share of your marital assets in the divorce. These assets include any joint bank accounts you hold, since their titles will include both of your names. You may both be able to access and withdraw funds from your shared accounts at any time, but the rule of thumb is for neither of you to remove more than 50% of the funds available in anticipation of divorce.

If your spouse drained your joint accounts, Washington courts will likely penalize them. A judge may order them to restore the withdrawn money to your accounts. Or, they might demand that your spouse give you marital property of equal value—which they would have otherwise received—in exchange. Your spouse may also end up having to pay your attorney’s fees and face a hefty fine.

Upholding the status quo

If your spouse drained your joint accounts after one of you filed for divorce, their consequences may stiffen. By this point, you might have requested and received a temporary family law order to uphold the status quo of your accounts. Yet, state courts have no obligation to inform your bank or credit union of this order, and your spouse may have emptied your accounts after a judge issued it. Their actions could cause them to face contempt of court charges, on top of any other penalties, since they actively violated the temporary order.

Starting your divorce with drained bank accounts will force you to grapple with a unique set of challenges. By understanding how you can hold your spouse accountable, you can work toward receiving recourse.


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