Trenton Divorce Lawyer | Wyandotte Divorce Attorney
If you are anticipating filing for a divorce it is important to try to get your financial house in order. If you are the primary wage earner in your family the court may ultimately impose upon you the duty of paying all or the majority of the credit cards. If you have savings it may be wise to pay these debts off if possible or to reduce the unpaid balances prior to filing for divorce. In Michigan, you can withdraw money from a joint savings account or joint checking account without notice to your spouse to pay on credit card balances.
There is always confusion regarding the liability for credit card debt. If the monthly statement is addressed to both you and your spouse it is a joint credit card obligation and both of you are liable to the credit card company.
If the monthly credit card statement is addressed only to you, then you are the only one liable to the credit card company for the debt. Even if your spouse has a credit card plate in his or her name, the account is not a “joint account” unless the monthly statement comes in both names.
Just remember, even though a credit card debt may be a joint obligation, the court has the authority, at least in Michigan, to proportion that debt between the parties in any manner that appears fair to the court.
In Michigan you could be ordered to pay 100% of a joint credit card debt and similarly, if you are the primary wage earner, the court has the power to require you to pay 100% of your spouse’s credit card debts even if those accounts are in your spouse’s name alone.
It is not unusual to see one spouse clean out a joint checking account or savings account in anticipation of a divorce or immediately upon receiving notice that a divorce has been filed. While in Michigan, it is legal for one party to either clean out or close a joint account, that behavior usually starts a battle that might not be necessary. If a new client is genuinely worried that his or her spouse will empty an account upon learning of the impending divorce action, I advise them to withdraw half of the money and to open a separate account. I have given this advice because we can not always rely upon the court to order the party who has cleared out a bank account to return the money. No two judges think exactly alike.
Having said this, once a person is served with a restraining order or mutual property injunction they cannot make such withdrawals. The language in most court-ordered injunctions restrains divorce litigants from making withdrawals that are not necessary for the payment of the usual household or family expenses. If a litigant withdraws the funds from any account, whether joint or in their individual name, after being served with a property injunction, they risk being held in contempt of court.
SECURING FINANCIAL RECORDS
If you anticipate filing for a divorce or anticipate that your spouse is about to file for a divorce it will be helpful to your attorney if you gather up all of your various financial documents and secure them at a location other than the marital residence. More specifically, income tax returns for the last five years, credit card statements for the last three years, bank statements for the last two years, and any other document related to debts and loans. Additionally, if you have a brokerage account, an IRA, annuity, life insurance policy, 401k, you need to gather up those annual and semi-annual statements for your attorney. You can always copy these documents and return the original documents to the marital residence.
I recommend doing the above because if your spouse removes all of the original records from the marital residence you and your attorney may expend considerable sums of money trying to obtain copies through what we call the discovery process.
I find it helpful if our clients obtain P.O. Boxes for the delivery of their mail or if they put in a change of address with the post office to have their mail delivered to a relative who lives in close proximity. Otherwise, you risk having your mail intercepted by your spouse which can cause all sorts of havoc.
DISCONTINUING DIRECT DEPOSITS
If you want to maximize your control over your pay check during the divorce proceedings you might consider discontinuing the direct deposit of your pay check into a joint bank account (or any bank account for that matter.) When filing the complaint for divorce your spouse may very well ask the court to issue a “Status Quo Order” which would require both you and your spouse to continue the direct deposits of your pay checks (if you were still doing that at the time the divorce was filed) and paying the household obligations in the same manner that you and your spouse were doing prior to the filing of the complaint for divorce.
SEPARATE BANK ACCOUNTS
Sometimes it is helpful in planning for a divorce if our clients discontinue depositing money into joint checking accounts, open up their own individual checking accounts and attempt to reach an agreement directly with their spouse as to who pays which monthly obligation i.e. mortgage payments, car payments, auto insurance, health insurance premiums, utility bills, etc. during the pendency of the divorce.