Short answer: They can, but they would regret it.
Long answer: During a divorce, it is common for people to begin to panic about money. In some cases, a spouse may withdraw large sums of money to attempt to hide the assets, or simply because they feel the money is rightfully their own. This is a terrible idea, and here’s why.
Hiding Assets During a Divorce is Illegal and Will Hurt Your Credibility in Court
New Jersey divorce law requires the full disclosure of all household assets. If large withdrawals are made before the divorce papers are served, this will all be investigated during discovery.
If you are not satisfied with the evidence gathered during the initial phase of discovery, your divorce lawyer can help you assemble a team of experts to continue pursuing hidden income and assets. This team can include:
Private Investigators: to gather proof of unreported businesses, false expenditures, and other fraudulent financial activity
Forensic Accountants: to help you find discrepancies in your spouse’s tax returns, business profit and loss statements, and personal banking records
Accountants: to help you conduct a Lifestyle Analysis to confirm your spouse’s reported income matches or exceeds their reported expenses
New Jersey family courts have no tolerance for individuals who are “fighting dirty” in the divorce process. If your spouse intentionally hid money or drained funds out of a shared bank account to weaken your financial situation during this vulnerable time, the courts will consider ways to correct this injustice.
A New Jersey family court judge may:
- Order the offending spouse to repay a portion of the money removed with interest, along with any late fees or penalties from bills that encountered insufficient funds in the account
- Allocate more assets than originally planned to the victimized spouse
- Order the offending spouse to pay back the missing money through higher spousal support payments
- Penalize the offending spouse with expensive sanctions
- Order the offending spouse to reimburse the other spouse for any fees associated with accountants, lawyers, and investigators who were hired to find the missing money
Can I Stop My Spouse from Emptying a Shared Account?
Your shared bank accounts will eventually be liquidated and closed. In the meantime, you can contact the bank and request a freeze on the account as soon as possible. A frozen account would require authorization from both parties to make any deposit or withdrawal from the account.
The bank may freeze a joint account at your request, but they are not legally required to do so without a court order. A divorce lawyer can help you file an application seeking to freeze the account to prevent both parties from making any changes to financial accounts and documents.
For joint investments, contact your financial advisor or broker to let them know about the divorce, so that no transactions occur going forward without your consent in writing. Once again, the financial institution handling joint investments is not legally required to freeze a joint account without a court order but a divorce lawyer can help you file an application seeking to freeze the account.
If you have a shared safe deposit box, you can remove your personal property or request a freeze on the box. It might be a good idea to take a time-stamped picture of the contents of the box for your records.
Hire a New Jersey Divorce Attorney
If you are not the breadwinner, the money in your joint bank account might be the only resource you have to continue meeting your financial obligations and to obtain legal counsel during the divorce proceeding. In this case, the possibility of your spouse draining the entire account would pose a very serious financial risk to you and your children.
Arons & Solomon holds decades of experience in safeguarding assets and seeking justice for “disappearing money.” We have access to a network of established investigators, appraisers, financial planners, and forensic accountants to protect your financial well-being. Contact us for a free consultation.