As a spouse contemplating divorce in North Carolina, you are likely consumed by the necessary issues that must be resolved -- such as property division, alimony and custody -- before a court will terminate your marriage. However, even before addressing these matters, you may need to take steps to protect marital assets, like money held in savings accounts, or your assets will be at risk if your spouse depletes or siphons off the funds before or during the divorce. Freezing your bank accounts is one way to keep this from happening.
When to Freeze Accounts
Every divorce case is different, just as individuals are. Amicable spouses who are able to work together and reach agreement on marital issues during a divorce are less likely to want to freeze their joint bank accounts, since unscrupulous behavior on the part of either spouse is not a concern. However, when spouses have a volatile relationship or if one spouse is uncooperative, untrustworthy or has a history of poor money management, there may be genuine concern over the safety of funds held in joint bank accounts. To preserve marital funds or to prevent a spouse from emptying joint accounts before the court's distribution, concerned spouses may want to have the accounts frozen.
If you're concerned that your spouse may dissipate assets in a joint savings or other account, you can take steps to prevent or reduce the chances of the assets dissipating. If you and your spouse are on good terms, one option is to mutually agree to close joint accounts, and then to separate the funds into separate individual accounts. If you don't have a good relationship with your spouse, you can still close your shared accounts and split the funds, typically in half, and to place your share in a separate account, forwarding the rest to your spouse. Or, you can leave the joint account open and simply transfer one-half of the funds to your separate account. You also have the option of restricting the account, and to require that all future transactions be approved by both spouses, especially withdrawals; or, you can freeze the account entirely.
Sometimes, spouses who are facing divorce feel more comfortable having a court intervene on financial matters, rather than taking action themselves. In some states, once a spouse files for divorce, an injunction immediately goes into effect and prohibits either spouse from transferring or otherwise disposing of marital property while the divorce is pending. This is not the case in North Carolina. To protect funds in a joint savings or other account until the court divides the property, you must petition the court for an injunction, which will prohibit your spouse from depleting, transferring or hiding marital assets.
In North Carolina, courts make an equitable distribution of marital property in a divorce, which means that property is divided between spouses in a manner that is fair and just -- but not necessarily equal -- based on a variety of factors that state law has established. One factor a court will consider is whether a spouse improperly dissipated or converted marital assets before or during the divorce; this could happen, for example, if the spouse depleted funds in a joint savings account. If the court finds financial misconduct on the part of your spouse, the court may order an unequal division of property to compensate you for monies lost. North Carolina law also permits the court to take your spouse's misconduct under consideration when making its alimony determination.