MOVING MONEY, CHANGING LOCKS, AND BEGINNING A DIVORCE

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Separation from a spouse is a painful time, but for many couples, once the inevitability of a pending divorce is established, they are eager to start separating their lives and finances. There are rules regarding how the financial and physical separation should begin, and when it should begin. In many states, when a divorce is filed, there is an automatic injunction that goes into place keeping either party from changing financial or physical assets or debts. This means neither party can sell assets, remove names from credit cards, or change locks without first seeking permission from the court. This automatic injunction does not exist in New Jersey, except as to making changes to any type of insurance (e.g. life, auto, health, homeowner’s insurance), but that does not mean it is a wise decision to drain bank accounts or lock your spouse out of the marital residence.

If you believe it is important to bar your spouse for the marital residence, your attorney can file a motion requesting that the court force your spouse to move out. These types of motions are not often granted, absent proof of domestic violence or a similar, untenable living situation. Usually a court will want the parties to figure out their own living arrangements without judicial intervention.

As to bank accounts, it is allowed for you to move money after the divorce is filed. However, there are important considerations when doing so. First, be advised that the simple act of moving money from a joint account to a separate account will not change it from marital to separate property. The money will still be marital property subject to equitable division by the court. Next, it is also important to keep marital bills in mind. If you take all of the marital funds, will your spouse be left with sufficient funds to continue to pay the marital bills without your help? Leaving a spouse destitute and with no way to pay bills in joint names not only will have an adverse impact on your credit as bills fall delinquent, but the trial courts will probably not look favorably on such an action. Finally, moving money for the purpose of dissipating it will also not benefit you. For example, buying lavish gifts for friends or gifting sums to relatives during the divorce will likely result in you being awarded a smaller portion of the marital estate at the final hearing, after the trial court takes into account your misuse of marital funds.

During the beginning of a divorce, it is tempting to start separating all accounts and the house as soon as possible. However, it is important to consult with a knowledgeable attorney before diving into this process. Call us today at (732) 479-4711 to let us help you navigate the beginning of your separation.

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