My wife withdrew all the money in my bank account, what legal action is necessary to get my money back?

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Question:

My wife and I separated after I told her that I want a divorce.  At lunch the next day, my debit card associated with my checking account was declined at a restaurant.  The bank informed me that my wife had withdrawn everything from the account early that morning.  She’s not listed as an owner of the account, because I worked for that money, while my wife is just a housewife.  I did list her as a signatory, so she could sign my checks to take care of the household bills.  The bank and the police say she didn’t do anything illegal.  Doesn’t the money belong to me?  What can the divorce court do about it, when a wife steals money that she didn’t work for?

Answer:

In most states, divorce laws presume that all property acquired during the term of your marriage is “marital property” belonging to both spouses, whether it is cash, retirement accounts, interest/investment earnings, personal property (like furniture, jewelry, or cars), or real estate, even if such property is titled in only one name or came from the earnings of only one spouse.  Non-marital property is frequently defined as an exception to this general rule.  For example, many states characterize property acquired by gift or inheritance as non-marital.  The bank and police could be saying that your wife didn’t steal your money because your state’s divorce law gives her a legal interest in the checking account cash.  However, your divorce attorney could ask the divorce court to order her to make bill payments on marital assets with part of the money, might be able to argue that her self-help advance means she doesn’t need alimony or spousal maintenance during the divorce, or could request that any cash your wife took for herself be credited against her share of the final property settlement.  The end division of net marital property is often made by a divorce court in a “fair” or “just” (not necessarily equal) manner, and if your wife took more than a divorce court finds was a fair share, the court could order her to pay some amount back to you, or it might compensate you by awarding you a greater interest in the other personal property or real estate.

 

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