While divorce is difficult for anyone who goes through it, the process will become far more challenging if your spouse has decided to play hardball. You might have hoped that the two of you would enter into proceedings on a level playing field. However, you quickly find out that your spouse had other intentions when they empty your joint bank accounts.
If your spouse is your household’s primary breadwinner, you may fear that you will be unable to afford your divorce without access to your shared funds. Yet, courts tend to impose penalties in cases where one spouse tries to put the other at a financial disadvantage during divorce proceedings.
Funds in joint bank accounts are community property
Because Wisconsin is a community property state, there is a legal presumption that you and your spouse will split your marital assets equally during divorce proceedings. Among these assets are those held in joint bank accounts. These funds belong to both of you – no matter who deposited them.
Technically, anyone who owns a bank account can remove the funds from it at any time without notice to the other. Yet, this course of action can carry consequences in divorce cases, especially when temporary orders are in place.
The consequences for emptying joint bank accounts
After you or your spouse filed for divorce, you may have attended a hearing where temporary orders were issued. In Wisconsin, these orders can cover a variety of matters, including the use of marital property – like joint bank accounts. If you have an order upholding the status quo of your joint bank accounts and your spouse violated it by emptying them, you can request that the court hold them in contempt. As a result of your motion, the court can impose sanctions on your spouse at its discretion. Likely, they will have to restore your share of the funds to your joint bank accounts. They may also have to pay a fine or your attorney’s fees. And they could even spend time in jail.
Beginning your divorce on a level playing field will make it easier for you to receive a settlement that reflects your circumstances. If your spouse has emptied your joint bank accounts, a family law attorney can help you fight to hold them accountable.