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Lets say Bob and Mary are about to get separated and divorced. Bob has a 401K and a savings account that Mary can not access. To prevent having to give Mary half when they divorce, Bob decides he wants to go a luxurious vacation and spend his hard earned money. Can Mary legally prevent Bob from spending his money?

  • Isn't it more likely that the courts will decide if it is actually his money rather than their money? Just because Bob has a saving account which Mary currently does not have easy access to doesn't necessarily mean that it's Bob's money. I don't know whether or not this anticipated spending could be prevented (although I'd guess that it probably could be), but wouldn't it be very unwise of Bob to start spending what could potentially be ruled as shared money, since it seems that he'd still be on the hook for it and would need to find some way to repay Mary's portion post-divorce? – brhans Mar 25 at 16:43
  • @brhans Your intuition isn't wrong, but the analysis isn't quite right. If the divorce court found that the property spent was not marital property, Mary wouldn't have any recourse. If it was marital property, the analysis in my answer would apply. – ohwilleke Mar 25 at 21:41
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Mary has two options (that are not mutually exclusive).

The stronger one is to file for divorce immediately and obtain an injunction against this activity in that case. In some states (e.g. Colorado) an injunction takes effect the moment that divorce papers are served upon a spouse.

The weaker one is to ask the divorce judge to allocate the value of the imprudently spent funds to Bob in the division of assets. The doctrine that allows the judge to do this even in a state that otherwise has only "no fault" divorce, is often called "economic waste" or "economic fault." The same doctrine applies, for example, if one spouses destroys valuable property of the other out of spite.

  • So in the "stronger" option, if Bob already left on vacation and can not be served. He would potentially not be liable for the money he spent? – Digital fire Mar 28 at 4:52
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    @Digitalfire If he isn't served, he can't be subject to an injunction against him, since he has no notice of it and the court does not yet have jurisdiction over him. But, his conduct might still constitute economic waste and result in an award disproportionately in his Wife's favor. – ohwilleke Mar 28 at 10:44

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