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I know of a situation wherein Spouse A was married to Spouse B and they had a joint checking account. Either A or B could write checks on the account without the knowledge or permission of the other.

A went to work every day, with the checkbook, while B stayed home and took care of things there on a daily basis. One day when A came home from work, B expressed dissatisfaction about not having a separate checking account in B’s sole name with which B could run the household and buy routine items. A agreed and set up the account for B and B received a new checkbook in B’s sole name. A could not write checks on B’s new account nor make withdrawals from it; however, A could deposit money into B’s account and could do so without informing B.

A knew that B could not handle the new account and soon overdraft letters began arriving from the bank. A intercepted those bank notices and covered B’s overdrafts and actually added funds to B’s account from time to time. Because B never looked at the statements, B had no idea that A was adding money to B’s account. Even though A added hundreds of dollars to B’s account frequently, B continued to spend more than was in the account.

After several months, A showed B B’s current bank statement showing that B’s account was badly overdrawn AND how much money A had sneaked into B’s account during that time. A asked B how B managed to spend more than B thought was in the account even though A had deposited several thousand dollars into B’s account without B’s knowledge. B handed A B’s checkbook and never again asked for a separate account and never wrote a check on the joint account without first telling A.

As a married couple, as is stated above, both had access to the joint account. They each had the ability, for example, to buy and surprise the other with presents for birthdays etc. If one got a parking ticket, that spouse could pay it out of the joint account without the other’s knowledge or permission; however, would it be okay for one spouse, without the other’s knowledge or permission, to pay gambling debts? That’s a little “iffy” is it not? Pushing the envelope even further, what about a spouse having a secret adulterous relationship with a third party and using joint funds for hotels and gifts?

What this can boil down to is a spouse spending on questionable purchases without the other’s knowledge or permission. If such spending were substantial relative to the total value of the account, like a ten thousand dollar mink coat when there was only twelve thousand in the account, it would be one spouse purposely depleting a joint marital asset. Certainly the same could be said if one spouse were to pay a divorce lawyer a retainer of, say, five thousand dollars. As the divorce moved forward, the spouse who dipped into the joint funds for substantial legal fees may well be required by the Court to account for them, perhaps by receiving a share of the marital assets reduced by what the spouse spent behind the back of the other spouse.

Look at it this way: At the same time a spouse moves out, that spouse goes directly to the bank and cleans out all of the accounts. Rather obviously, that spouse will be made to account for that action as part of the divorce process and it will not matter whether or not the amount appropriated was for legal fees. The same reasoning would apply had that spouse, while the other spouse was at work, removed all of the furnishings and electronics. Assets are assets, whether money or things worth money. That all said, it is still a matter of proportion. I doubt that the law would have a problem with one spouse spending a couple of hundred dollars on a low-cost, simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce to which both parties had agreed and were able to divide their marital assets themselves in a fair and reasonable manner.