This following inquiry was sent via e-mail recently and questions like this are all too common and something that I think should be addressed.
“Last week my husband informed me he wants a divorce. Today I learned he has closed all our accounts and opened new accounts in his name only. Can he do this without my signature?”
For the purposes of this article, what he/she did is not as important as the fact that he or she has done something. The actions range from moving out, changing the locks, calling the cops, snatching the kids out of school, etc.
Advice in a situation like this is difficult. For example, whether or not a spouse can close bank accounts without the other spouse’s permission is a matter of contract – the account agreement between the parties and the bank controls this particular issue. Now, if it can be shown that the bad actor has lied to the bank or forged signatures or even worse, filed the divorce first in a county that has Standing Orders in Family Law Matters that prohibit such actions – the action to be taken in response is different. FYI – Collin County, Dallas County, and Denton County in Texas all have “Standing Orders” that are effective and enforceable as to a Petitioner the second he or she causes the petition to be filed. It applies to the other party as well but until he or she has been served or given notice, they don’t know. Violating “standing orders in a family law case” is contempt of court and subjects the bad actor to possible sanctions.
Moree practically, if a party has done one bad act in preparation or effort to gain a strategic advantage in a divorce or custody battle, he or she has likely planned or committed multiple actions in advance of his or her own agenda. While a divorce lawyer cannot advise how to “plan” for divorce, there is an abundance of information available and any Family Law Attorney with any experience has a list of “dos and don’ts” to give to prospective clients.
Usually, parties either start out trying to be congenial, or at least one spouse decides at the start to just fight and be difficult. A party that plans is taking the difficult route and the responding spouse should get ready and strike back as fast as possible. One way to accomplish this is to hire a lawyer and request Temporary Orders and do it immediately. So many times a spouse thinks if he or she can wait this out, or if they just give the other party some space then all will be well. That is seldom the case. Ask the other spouse to go to counseling and if they agree, ask them to undo the bad act. If the agree to both, then you have time and a chance to fix the marriage or at least make the divorce/custody fight a less stressful event in your life. But if you spouse starts out playing games and does not immediately agree and follow through with an attempt to make things easy you MUST protect your rights immediately. DO NOT WAIT. There is a saying “The law rewards the diligent.” In fact, there are multiple legal theories designed to punish the one who rest on his/her laurels. A Court has the inherent power to control the docket and can dismiss a case for want of prosecution (DWOP) and doctrine of “Latches” is based upon the maxim that equity aids the vigilant and not those that slumber on their rights”. Latches holds that a party that fails to protect his or her rights has abandoned those rights.
It cannot be stressed enough – DO SOMETHING! Just sitting around hoping things will occur or get better seldom if ever works. If your spouse has asked for a divorce, that means he or she is planning. You need to plan too. Find a divorce attorney and make an appointment. Get a strategy put in place. Even if you decide you do not want to be the one to file for divorce, get ready and know what you can and cannot do – more importantly, know what your spouse can and cannot do. Then dig and copy records and find documents your lawyer may need. These things disappear when you need them most so get them early.
One of the most effective tools a divorce and custody attorney can use is “Temporary Orders”. Temporary Orders are a means by which you can have the Judge level the playing field very quickly and in that hearing the Judge has a lot of discretion. The Judge can establish who will live in the house, and who will move out, who will have possession of the kids, and the Judge can order that you get access to 1/2 of the money, and if the other spouse is the sole wage earning the Judge can order him/her to pay bills at home, provide you some assistance and money in the interim and you can ask for money to pay your attorney too.
If you are considering a divorce or have a custody issue, contact Reeves Law Firm, PC today. We represent clients in all Family Law matters from Allen, Frisco, Prosper, Little Elm, Denton, Plano, McKinney, Richardson and the surrounding areas of Collin County, Dallas County, and Denton County of Texas.
Before I wrap this up, I mentioned a list of things to find/get above. Well, here is the list and clients are advised to get copies (or the originals) of these documents and get them out of the house where they will be safe – leave with a friend or family member, give to your attorney, or at least make a couple copies because you will need this stuff:
1) A copy of your credit report and a copy of your spouses credit report (www .freeannualcreditreport.org)
2) A copy of each credit card statement that is open – preferably a couple months, but at least the last one
3) A copy of the electric, water, gas, and phone bills – same as above a couple month are preferred, the last month is mandatory
4) A copy of the current car insurance card as well as the insurance cards for boats, planes, motorcycles, etc. FYI – the insurance cards have VIN numbers and that helps get a more accurate assessment of value.
5) A copy of the current health insurance card for you and your kids (if any) and if your family utilizes a Health Savings Account (HSA) – a copy of the account statement
6) Copies of the bank accounts, brokerage accounts, retirement account summaries (most recent)
7) If you have a safe deposit box, go get a copy of the log showing who accessed it and when – do not access it without a witness to help you inventory (this must be someone willing to come to court and say they were there when the inventory was taken) For the time, you just want to know the last couple times he got into the box.
8) IF you have NOT been served, but your spouse has told you he/she wants a divorce. Call every credit card issued in your name and report them stolen. YES, YOU READ THAT RIGHT, REPORT THEM STOLEN OR AT LEAST CANCEL THEM NOW. Be sure to tell the credit card issuing bank that you do not want new cards at this time or if you do order new cards, have them sent to a new address where only you can get to them – such as your mother’s house, your friends house, a post office box, etc. Do this ONLY TO YOUR CREDIT CARDS – if you have credit cards in your spouse’s name that you can sign and use, pay your attorney with those credit cards, pay your bills with those credit cards, and fix the AC with those credit cards and do it before the other party cancels them.
9). If your spouse has social media – access and print it now. Print the whole thing and secure the copy. While you are there, access the web browser history and print that out. This is not as difficult as it sounds and you can web-search instructions. Print out the “Cookies” as well – again instructions are available via web-search and finally, if your spouse saves passwords on the computer, print that out as well.
10). Get school records for the children (if applicable).
11). Start keeping a journal now. Buy a spiral notebook – write down what happened recently that you think may be relevant to the divorce (anything you want the Judge to know is likely relevant – but beware your spouse is likely doing the same, so act accordingly). Write things down in your journal while you still have a fresh memory. Write down anything you can remember in the last 3-4 months if you think is it important to tell the Judge about it. Some things that may be important are those that are unique or seemed strange at the time, etc. Keep a daily diary of what your spouse does to you or that affects you and/or the children and keep this journal safe.
12). Hire a lawyer. The sooner you start protecting your rights, the easier it will be to protect your rights.