Help, My Ex Took All The Money

Opened piggy bank with coins on old wooden table

In a previous post, we discussed joint accounts, and what some of the guidelines are for withdrawing money from those accounts. It’s a common question, because divorce or no divorce you’ve still got to pay your basic bills.

But what happens if your ex doesn’t pay attention to those guidelines? What happens if you go to withdraw money for rent or groceries only to find your ex has cleaned out the joint account?

This dirty trick is common enough that many experts recommend both spouses keep their own accounts, even if they hold a joint account for the purposes of paying bills. And banks won’t do anything about it, because as far as they’re concerned opening a joint account gives both people the right to access the money in the account.

Fortunately, you aren’t helpless in this situation.

Don’t panic.

Take a deep breath. Take a moment to print bank statements and gather whatever financial information you can. You’ll have documentation of what your ex did, which is extremely important.

Take all that documentation to your lawyer. Some of that money is yours. Your lawyer can ask the judge to file all manner of emergency orders. Your ex may be ordered to put at least half that money back, even if it’s all spent. He or she may also be ordered to pay any expenses you incurred while trying to deal with his or her actions, such as bounced check fees.

Take a moment to call your creditors to tell them what’s happened. While they will still want their money you may be able to negotiate a little more time. That may be all you need to get this sorted out and get everyone paid.

Work on getting your immediate needs met.

Once you’ve called your creditors figure out what has to happen right away. If you need a little grocery money you might reach out to family members or friends for a small loan. If you end up having to use a credit card to pay for groceries because of your ex’s actions, be sure to document that fact as well.

If you don’t have anyone who can help you may be able to reach out to certain emergency food assistance organizations here in Philadelphia. Explain your situation to them, as well as when you expect to get your own next paycheck (if you draw one at all). Each of these programs has different requirements, so don’t give up if one of them turns you down at first.

Know you’ll get justice.

Judges do not like it when divorcing spouses try to destroy their exes this way. These sorts of actions tend to get factored into the final settlement. Your ex may find his or her vindictive act is far more expensive than he or she would have dreamed.

Remember, “equitable” distribution doesn’t mean “equal” distribution, and you may end up with a greater share of the marital property later because of the trouble your ex has caused. Documenting the difficulties you had meeting your basic needs, or your children’s, because of this action could also help you obtain additional spousal support later.

Try to protect yourself by knowing the signs.

Ultimately, it’s better if you can set aside some resources before the divorce happens. While we aren’t encouraging you to clean out the bank account (the consequences will be just as dire for you), spotting the signs of a divorce on the horizon can give you some lead time to open your own account, either for your own paycheck or for a small share of the joint funds that you can hold on to in case of emergency. Withdrawing a small, fair amount of money before the divorce is filed shouldn’t create problems later.

It’s also a good time to seek a free consultation with a lawyer for other steps you can take to prepare yourself. You may have a little time to try to seek marriage counseling to stop the divorce in its tracks. But that doesn’t have to mean you have to avoid protecting yourself in the meantime.

See also: Why Divorce Wrecks Your Credit and What You Can Do About It, and 5 Steps You Can Take to Keep Your Divorce from Destroying Your Finances.

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