Saturday, January 31, 2009

Texas Divorce Lawyer Tip: Dividing and Dealing with Joint Checking, Savings and Mutual Fund Accounts.

When you first start contemplating a divorce in Texas, you will have the ability to do things with financial accounts that you might not be able to do once the divorce begins. Once the divorce has been filed, you are not allowed to divert money, change designations, or the like. You should also be aware that your spouse will have access to the joint bank (checking, savings, or mutual fund) accounts just like you and when discussions about attorneys come up, it is not uncommon for one spouse to empty all of the money out of the joint bank account for these types of needs. Is there anything that you can do about this? Probably not. During a divorce, the spouses are generally permitted to make expenditures for: (1) reasonable living expenses (such as food, shelter, etc), and (2) attorney's fees. However, you should at least have your own contingency plan.

The only way to ensure that you will have access to funds is to open up your own bank account and start having your paycheck deposited to this account. It is not a bad idea to attempt to get both you and your spouse (by agreement) to open up separate checking / savings account and a separate credit card account. You can even agree (in writing or otherwise) that these accounts are the separate responsibility of the respective spouse. Close the joint account (or keep a nominal amount of money in it) so that there are less assets to ultimately divide by the Court.

If this can be done by agreement, then there will be less of an opportunity for a misunderstanding. If you change where your paycheck gets deposited without informing your spouse, understand that you might be starting a "war." You should be very careful about any actions like this that can backfire. However, if you can do this without inciting additional problems, then this is not a bad idea. In any event, you should at least open up a separate account and ensure that you have enough funds in that account to get by for a couple of months and to obtain an attorney if this becomes necessary. Otherwise, you may not be able to survive without help from family or friends, and you might end up having to sacrifice assets in order to make it for a couple of months. Another alternative is to have your attorney seek the disbursement of funds for living expenses and attorney's fees from other community assets. These types of motions, however, can end up being expensive.

If you expect your spouse to remain civil during the divorce, then this might not be a big deal, but understand that your spouse will have access to each of the joint accounts and during a highly contested divorce, it is not uncommon for one spouse to withdraw money from accounts (for legitimate attorney's fees or for other things) and they can then start hiding the cash. If you have questions about the preparation of specific agreements and other questions about how to deal with joint accounts, you should seek the advice of an experienced divorce attorney.