If Your Spouse Cleans Out Your Joint Account Before a Divorce, Can You Legally Get That Money Back?

By Larissa Bodniowycz, J.D.

If Your Spouse Cleans Out Your Joint Account Before a Divorce, Can You Legally Get That Money Back?

By Larissa Bodniowycz, J.D.

Finding your bank account has been wiped out by your spouse is a nightmare scenario that no one deserves to go through. Whether you can get those funds back depends on a number of factors, including the type of account, the reason the money was taken, and your state's divorce laws.

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Type of Bank Account

A joint bank account is one that is registered in the name of two people who each have full power over it. In other words, either person can deposit or withdraw money without obtaining permission from or even telling the other person. If your spouse took money out, their withdrawal was probably legal.

Sometimes married couples treat individual accounts as though they were joint. It is not uncommon for them to each keep one or more bank accounts in their name alone but allow the other spouse to use it as though it was a joint one. If your spouse withdrew funds that was titled in your name alone without your authorization, the withdrawal might be illegal, but again, it depends on the situation.

For example, if you told your spouse they could no longer use the bank account that is in your name alone and they took your corresponding debit card from your wallet and used it to withdraw money from the ATM, that might be considered theft. If, however, you had not communicated to your spouse that you no longer give them such permission, then the withdrawal was probably legal.

Getting the Money Back

If the withdrawal of funds by your spouse was illegal, you can report it as a crime. If your spouse is found guilty, the criminal court will almost certainly require them to reimburse you as part of their punishment.

Even if your spouse's actions were technically legal, or you understandably do not want to report their actions as a crime, you may be able to get your money back by reporting it to the divorce court. In all states, there are ways for a court to compensate you for the loss either by directly ordering that you receive the amount of money that was taken or by awarding you other assets to compensate for the funds your spouse cleaned out of the account. The exact options available depend on the laws in your state.

Reason Money Was Taken

If your spouse's withdrawal of money was legal, whether the divorce court compensates you for the loss will depend on the reason the money was taken. If the funds were used to pay joint debts, marital bills, or for your children's needs, the court probably won't reimburse you even though you did not consent to your spouse's use of the money. If instead, your spouse used the money on an over the top trip around the world, they will likely find a way to ensure you are compensated for the loss.

It may not always feel like it, but divorce courts generally try to find a way to make things fair. This is good news if you've recently found out that your spouse cleaned out your joint account.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.