My spouse and I just separated. What rights do I have to our joint bank accounts? (Financial advisors listen up!)
My advice in this situation is you better watch out! Under Family Law Article § 1-203(b), “unless the court expressly provides otherwise, the filing of an action for an annulment, a limited divorce, or an absolute divorce does not constitute lis pendens with respect to any property of a party.” Lis pendens is a Latin term which means “a pending lawsuit,” and in this context refers to the fact that a pending lawsuit does not constitute a hold on “any property of a party,” including joint property. In other words, a party’s bank account, or the couple’s joint bank accounts, are openly accessible by either party, regardless of the ongoing marital dispute or the filing of a divorce case. This is often the first question that people ask their family law attorney: “We have $50,000 in our joint savings account, can he/she take it?” The answer is, without question, yes (unless, of course, the financial institution has separate rules or a separate agreement with the account holders that withdrawals require the consent of both parties, but that’s rare). Now there are some rules on the spending or use of that money, but more on that later…. Often, sound advice is to advise the client to remove at least 50% of a joint account in the case of a financially-dominant spouse, or perhaps more in the case of a non-financially-dominant spouse. Removing the money does not mean wasting or spending it, doing so just changes who has control over the funds. These questions involve a matter of strategy with your counsel and consideration of the overall impact on the case. As the saying goes, “All’s fair in love and war.” A divorce is often a war about love (or the lack thereof), so that rule clearly applies. If the only thing that is keeping the parties from pillaging the bank accounts is mutual trust, and that trust has been broken, then it’s important to protect your rights quickly. If you have any questions, please contact Alex Allman at: firstname.lastname@example.org | 410.209.6438 Alex Allman focuses his practice in the areas of family law and civil litigation. Mr. Allman has been involved in handling all aspects of domestic or family law cases, including divorce, property distribution, child custody, child support and alimony, as well as a broad range of complex commercial and civil litigation. You can also connect with Offit Kurman via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn.