What to do? My wife just emptied out the checking account! My husband just withdrew $50,000 from our joint investment account! What can I do to stop this behavior and protect the marital assets?
The important thing to know is that you can stop it. You can stop it by filing a Petition for Special Relief to Freeze Marital Assets. By filing this petition, you are requesting that the court enter an order preventing either party from depleting marital assets. This petition can apply to all marital assets or certain marital assets. It can also be done on an emergency basis. If your spouse has already started emptying accounts, you need to file an Emergency Petition for Special Relief so that your assets can be protected as soon as possible.
Even if your spouse hasn’t withdrawn any marital assets, it may be necessary to file this petition. If you are at all worried that there may be no marital assets by the time equitable distribution rolls around, you should file this petition. You could be worried that your spouse will start moving marital money to different accounts, will use assets for his/her business, will use it for expensive trips, to pay off debt, etc. There are a variety of reasons why you might be worried, so it makes sense to protect yourself. Filing this petition protects your assets and provides a guarantee that, when you reach equitable distribution, there will be assets left to divide.
If you do need to access marital assets while you’re going through the divorce process, you need either an order of court or an agreement signed by the parties releasing certain assets. To get a court order, you need to file another Petition for Special Relief explaining to the court what you need and why you need it. Examples of reasons to request this relief are that you need money to pay for repairs to the marital residence, that you need money to help you stay afloat financially, or that you need money because an emergency of some sort has arisen. If the court believes that you have a legitimate request, the judge will likely order the release of a certain amount of money.
What happens if my spouse ignores the order freezing the assets and starts withdrawing money from one of the frozen accounts? Since you have a court order, you can drag your spouse back into court for contempt of the order. You can request that the court order him to pay back whatever funds he took, that he be required to pay you half of the amount he took, that he be required to pay your attorneys fees and for the court to order additional sanctions against him.
The assets will start to thaw as you continue through the divorce process and, once you complete equitable distribution, the assets will be back to room temperature and available for the taking. And, since you did freeze the marital assets, you know that none of the accounts have been liquidated or that any of the assets have been sold. You will be able to leave the marriage with a portion of the assets in your pocket.
If you have even the slightest worry that your husband, wife or spouse will start emptying accounts, you need to file a Petition for Special Relief to Freeze Marital Assets. It is the only way to truly protect yourself and, in the end, it is always better to be safe than sorry.