Can a spouse legally withdraw all of the money out of a joint bank account before filing for divorce?

Asked almost 6 years ago - Los Angeles, CA

Shortly before my ex and I split, we refinanced our home and we had a joint bank account. After the split, I withdrew all of the money out of the account and opened up a new account, from which I used the money to pay for bills, i.e. mortgage/credit card bills (which he was using under my credit)/property taxes/ and money needed to support our child.

My ex husband is filing a complaint to seek half of the refinance money. Mind you, in the process of refinancing, he placed his name on the title and mixed it in with refinance papers. Come to find out i signed half of my home away (I cant prove that so I had to let it go).

My question is, since the money was deposited into our joint bank account (which gives us both FULL access to the account), technically and legally can I make any kind of withdrawal I want since we both had full access? My second question is can he sue me to recover half of the money? A single Mom in California

Attorney answers (5)

  1. Norman Gregory Fernandez

    Pro

    Contributor Level 15

    Answered . First off, I do family law in the Los Angeles area.

    The law allows you to use community property to pay for the necessities of life and your attorney after legal separation.

    With respect to your husbands complaint you failed to state whether it was in family or civil court.

    You may contact my office at 818-584-8831 ext. 1 for a free consultation on your case during normal business hours. You may also visit my family law website at www.divorce-legal.net .

  2. Piotr Gabriel Reysner

    Contributor Level 10

    Answered . Go talk to a lawyer immediately. California is very strict about the duties one spouse owes the other when it comes to finances. What you did potentially violated Caliifornia Family Code section 1101 et seq. You could potentially be in a LOT of trouble. You need legal representation.

    I would also suggest not posting on any internet message boards as the information found here could be used against you if your soon-to-be-ex found out about it.

  3. Marshall William Waller

    Pro

    Contributor Level 15

    Answered . You are correct in your "gut assessment" that you are entitled to full access to the proceeds of money in a joint account. There are, however (as previous posters have mentioned) a lot of rules regarding the manner in which spouses treat each other in this context (this is referred to as “fiduciary duty” or, in the case of coming from your husband's position, an alleged breach [by you] of your fiduciary duty owed to him). I of course don’t have sufficient facts to render any opinion on the correctness of anybody's position here, and this is a very complicated area of family law. You really should speak with an attorney about this as quickly as possible. I suggest you consult with a Certified Family Law Specialist and, even in that context, make sure to ask how much experience they have in dealing with issues arising out of fiduciary duties. You will be required to account for the monies taken, but in general, this is a situation that will be dealt with by the Family Court and will likely be handled equitably. By the way, you might be able to attack your “signing your husband onto your property” (as you described it), so don’t just give up on that claim because you think you can’t prove it. Get an opinion from a qualified family law attorney on that first. Good luck.

  4. Svetlana V Couture

    Contributor Level 6

    Answered . You can certainly use some help with this complex tangle. You can do your case yourself with aid of Family Law Facilitator's office in your county or, preferably, if any can afford any legal fees, you should seek attorney representation as there are many pitfalls during "do it yourself" litigation. Our firm offers representation on a flat rate fee basis for some matters similar to yours. If interested, please contact Svetlana Couture (510)710-7720.

  5. Judith Ann Routledge

    Contributor Level 13

    Answered . One key issue is whether there is a Petition for Dissolution of marriage filed; If so, the Summons associated with it contains orders preventing either party from transferring assets. Banking rules allowing full access by either party are not applicable if the parties are in the legal process of divorce.

    Since this refinance is secured by the home, one way to counter his claim is to remind him that if he wants 1/2 of the refinance money, then he will be obligated to repay 1/2 of the loan, although it seems as if when you refinanced, the lender required his signature on the loan, which also placed him on title and makes him jointly responsible to the lender. Here, much depends on the value remaining in the home, and your intentions regarding selling it or keeping it. However, if you want all of the proceeds, then I would argue if I were him that you should pay all of the loan.

    If he is filing a "complaint," then he is filing in civil court, and I don't think he will prevail because of the full access. However, if you are in family court already, the issue is more complex.

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