If you are contemplating separating from your spouse, one advantage of being the one who initiates the split is an opportunity to keep the things that you may want or need during the separation. One question that clients often ask pre-separation is whether they should take any or all of the money in the joint bank accounts. With apologies for giving such a lawyer-y non-answer, the answer is: it depends. I would suggest balancing two factors when deciding what to take: how badly you will need the money, and how bad you expect the fallout to be.
Do you need the money?
Once you and your spouse have separated, you will be living on your own. Think about the expenses that you will have when you have separate households, whether you remain in the marital home or move out. Will your personal income be enough to cover your expenses? How will you meet your daily needs? If it takes some time to get spousal and child support orders in place, how will you take care of your family in the interim? If you will need the money in the bank account to subsist (not just that you want to take it out of spite), then taking it is likely best.
If you are quite certain you will not need the money in the account to get by, then it may serve your interests better not to take it. You will avoid the anger and keep open the possibility of friendly negotiations down the road. Rest assured, later in the process you can divide the money that’s in the account on the date of your separation.
What will the fallout be?
Separating from your spouse is usually emotional for both of you. Particularly for the spouse who did not initiate the separation, who may be stunned or devastated, clearing out the bank accounts will make things even more turbulent. Think about how your spouse will react if you take the money. Is it worth it? If he or she is angered or hurt further, it might make negotiating down the road more difficult.
Many people may weigh their need for the money against their spouse’s emotional reaction and still feel unsure about whether to take it. The simple solution seems to be to take half of the money. That might be the right strategy in your case, but very experienced attorneys have warned that taking half of the money often causes as much turmoil as taking it all. If your spouse is going to be steaming mad either way and you will need more than half of the money to get by, it might be best in the long run to take all of the money. Whatever you decide, be prepared for the angry fallout if you surprise you spouse with an empty (or half-empty) bank account.
If, on the other hand, your spouse is the one who cleans out the account, your lawyer can help you pursue an “interim distribution” during the separation to recover some of the marital property. The downside is that you will be paying an attorney to go through this process. So, if you are contemplating separation, weigh the consequences of emptying the bank account, think strategically, and talk with a lawyer about how to proceed.
- 5 Ways Divorce Impacts Your Finances (wealthcareforwomen.com)