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Dealing with joint accounts during a divorce

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Estranged spouses in Michigan and around the country sometimes withdraw funds from joint accounts before filing for divorce, but this can sometimes lead to bitter disputes and protracted legal battles. Some financially vulnerable spouses who rely on the income provided by their husbands or wives withdraw money from joint checking, savings or retirement accounts to make ends meet while their divorces are pending, but others take preemptive action to prevent their spouses from hiding assets and concealing funds.

This kind of behavior is common because divorcing spouses often mistrust one another and many divorce filings include automatic temporary restraining orders. These orders become valid when a divorce summons is issued, and they prevent both spouses from transferring, encumbering or disposing of marital assets. ATROs also stop divorcing parents from taking their children to another state to avoid custody restrictions.

Withdrawing funds before a divorce petition is filed and an ATRO issued may avoid thorny legal problems, but it can also set the stage for messy, prolonged and expensive divorces. Good faith is crucial during property division negotiations, but it can be difficult to find common ground when spouses have acted covertly and kept each other in the dark. When money is withdrawn from joint accounts prior to filing a divorce petition, some authorities recommend that no more than half of the available funds be taken.

Experienced family law attorneys may urge divorcing spouses to take a proactive approach to property division, spousal support and child custody negotiations by focusing on the future rather than dwelling on the past. Acrimony and resentment are common in divorce cases, but the final goal should be an amicable agreement that provides both spouses with the possibility of a fresh start. When hostilities run deep and conventional negotiations have been unproductive, attorneys may suggest alternative venues such as divorce mediation or arbitration.

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