Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law
As a Jacksonville, Florida divorce attorney I am often asked the question, “Can I take money out of our bank accounts?” When that question does not come up, I am often told that the other party cleaned out the bank accounts already. So, how are accounts generally divided in a Florida divorce and what should you do with your bank accounts while going through a divorce?
Florida is an equitable distribution state, which means that each party is generally entitled to equal shares of the marital assets, including bank accounts. When you file for divorce in Florida, most courts have what is called a, “Standing Family Law Court Order.” The Order in the Jacksonville area establishes that neither party shall dissipate (sell, squander, gamble, etc.) away marital assets. However, is the set-up your own account and actual dissipation of the money in the bank?
What I normally tell clients is that if they feel there is a strong likelihood that their spouse will clean out an account, then the client should set-up his/her own account. When doing so, if money needs to be withdrawn from a joint account, then take a screen shot or printout of what is in the account on the day of the anticipated withdrawal. Then, at most, to take 50% of the funds, but not to use 50% of the funds simply hold them in his/her own account. The funds can be used for living necessities, but I do not recommend taking the money out to buy the sports car of one’s dreams.
The reason that the money should not just be used as if it is yours from the word, “go,” is because the court may find that there are grounds to award an unequal distribution of assets (i.e. that one party used marital funds to further an extramarital relationship) or that with division of assets and debts, the other party is owed more in assets because she/he took the majority of debts. These all play a factor in a divorce and until a judge puts his/her signature on an order, anything could happen with regards to your assets.
As an example of what could happen, say you have a one-year old gas grill and your spouse decides to sell the grill for $50 without first consulting you, then your spouse may be held in contempt for not following the Court’s standing order. In addition, since the grill most likely has more than a $50 fair market value, your spouse may be responsible for paying you one-half of the fair market value and not $25 (your one-half of the sale price).
When going through a divorce in Florida, you want to make certain that you protect yourself, but you also want to make certain that you are not putting yourself at risk for having to pay more than necessary in the end. Understanding your rights and options is vital to preparing for divorce so that things like a Standing Court Order, do not come back to haunt you by being held in contempt of court and having to pay your soon-to-be ex any additional funds. In order to protect yourself properly, you should meet with an experienced family law/divorce lawyer to be educated on what to expect and the dos and don’ts of divorce.