Are Savings Accounts Frozen During a Divorce in North Carolina?

By Mary Jane Freeman

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.

Personal Steps

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.

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Court Intervention

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.

Penalties

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.

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About Freezing of Bank Accounts During a Divorce

References

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Proving Money Is Inherited

Each state has its own laws regarding the division of marital property in a divorce. Community property states, which stand in the minority, require courts to divide an estate equally, whereas equitable distribution states -- the majority -- seek to divide estates equitably, or fairly. In both types of jurisdictions, inherited money is usually considered separate property and not divisible in divorce. The burden of proving that certain funds represent your inheritance, however, will likely rest on you.

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

When two people hold a joint account, they each have an equal right to its balance, regardless of whether or not they're married. The situation changes, however, when a married couple separates. The divorce process gives rise to property rights on the part of each spouse as to all items considered marital property.

Leaving a Matrimonial Home Before a Divorce

A divorce is often a highly emotional event; continuing to live in the same residence can cause the stress to skyrocket. While it is understandable that you might want to move out of the marital home while the divorce is pending, leaving can have serious consequences. Before you pack up and go, consider how moving out can affect the way your divorce unfolds.

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