What assets need protecting during a divorce?
Joint bank accounts are very easy for a spouse to wipe out — either one of you. Joint tenancy in real property means that you have a joint tenancy in your house, but to transfer that, a deed is required. Joint tenancy in a bank account means you own 100% of it, which means either one of you can wipe it out at any time. With those accounts, you need to be a little bit more careful. I would suggest, if your spouse knows about the divorce, that you talk about maybe dividing that up front so that neither one of you has to be concerned about what the other person is going to do. The other thing that you can do, which is not a fail-safe thing, is put the bank on alert that you want to be contacted; whether they actually do it or not is another thing altogether. I’ve written letters to credit card companies, to banks letting them know that there is a divorce pending and that certain accounts should be frozen. It’s just a matter of whether they will honor that and whether they’re required to honor it. They often make up their own rules about that.
In terms of credit cards, it’s very difficult to get somebody off a credit card if they’re a joint owner, but it’s very easy for one party to lower the limit. You can call the credit card company and say that you no longer want the limit to be as high as it is so at least you’re going to mitigate any potential harm that way. In Maine, it’s an equitable division state, just because your spouse racks up a bunch of credit card debt doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily going to be responsible for half of that. You get to argue why that’s not fair. I wouldn’t say necessarily in most cases because fairness is in the eye of the beholder, but if truly the expenses were to benefit one person and not the marriage, generally a court will see that and make that person take responsibility for that debt.