Attorney’s Corner: Can My Spouse Lock Me Out or Drain Our Accounts?
Interviewer: I’m getting a divorce. My soon to be ex-spouse has taken out all our money and closed our bank and credit card accounts. What do I do?
Attorney Soltys: If the case was already pending when these changes were made, then your spouse might be in contempt of the Standing Order that is issued at the beginning of each divorce case. The Standing Order is issued by the court to prevent the disposal of assets except in the ordinary course of business, along with other terms such as preventing removal of the children from the court’s jurisdiction. In this situation, your attorney may file a Motion for Contempt. Even if the changes were made prior to filing, this scenario may necessitate a temporary hearing to address the issue. It’s important to understand that courts are overtaxed with too many cases, and even in urgent situations like this it often takes several weeks to get in front of a judge. This is why it is so important to always have a credit card in your own name and access to enough funds to float you for a few weeks until a temporary hearing. Clients who have not kept a small amount of financial autonomy must typically receive assistance from friends and family during this period of time. The exception to this is if you have been the victim of domestic violence perpetrated by your spouse. If that is the case, then it is possible to be heard by a judge very quickly.
Interviewer: I don’t have any money, and I’m locked out of the house. I have no family or friends here. I don’t know where to go?
Attorney Soltys: Speak to your attorney about options. It is possible that with the assistance of law enforcement, you may be able to enter back into the home. If there has been abuse you may be able to obtain possession of the home and temporary financial support through the Temporary Protective Order process. Consider asking friends and family to give you temporary financial assistance if they are able. If family and friends are unable to help, then you may need to consider resources in the community for temporary assistance. Your attorney should be able to point you in the right direction.
Interviewer: Does my spouse have the right to do any of these things? What rights do I have in this situation?
Attorney Soltys: A spouse is not permitted to leave a financially dependent spouse destitute, and it is also not permitted to dispose of or hide marital assets. That said, in reality it happens all too frequently where one spouse earns all of the family income and controls the finances, and then suddenly cuts off the other spouse once a divorce is forthcoming. While this can be addressed in front of a judge and is not going to be viewed favorably, it will still take some time to get into court. Work with your attorney, therapist, family, friends, and church to come up with a plan to care for your basic needs until your court date.
Interviewer: What should I do to protect myself from my spouse taking away anything else we share together?
Attorney Soltys: Document, document, document! List out every asset you can recall, search through documents and electronic files to locate assets, and even look through personal photographs that will help document items like furniture and artwork. If you have access to the home, then take a photographic inventory of all valuable belongings. If you do not know specifics about various financial accounts, just listing names of banks where you know accounts are held is helpful, as your attorney can send a subpoena to the financial institution. Compile as much information as you can for your attorney, which will help them determine all assets that you might be entitled to.