“I’m about to tell my spouse that I want a divorce. Should I empty all the bank accounts first so I have money for the divorce?”
As an attorney who concentrates my practice in Collaborative divorce and mediation, before directly answering your question, I would counsel you to consider whether or not you believe that your divorce has any chance of being an amicable one. If so, you do not want to begin your divorce in an “attack” mode by shoring up defenses in anticipation of a long siege. Instead, I would tell you to remember that all assets acquired during your marriage belong to the marriage itself, with certain exceptions, such as inheritances, pre-marital funds, and gifts that have been kept in separate accounts. Therefore, while you may fear that you will need to have some separate funds to rely upon at the beginning of your divorce, you would be wise to remember that if either of you takes funds out of joint accounts during your divorce, each will be responsible to explain what you did with those funds, and may be required to reimburse the “marital estate” for the funds taken out.
If you are uncertain as to whether your husband may be willing to mediate or turn to Collaborative practice for your divorce, and you are afraid that he will “beat you to the punch” and remove all the funds once you tell him you want a divorce, I would suggest that you take out half of the funds and put them into a separate account at a different bank. By doing this you will have access to the funds for necessities and attorney’s fees, and will also have a clear accounting record of what you are doing with the funds. I do not advise anyone to “clean out the account” as I believe that doing so is like an “act of war” in which you signal that you anticipate a difficult, contentious divorce.