Not without your spouse’s agreement. Wisconsin divorce property division law specifically prohibits selling, giving away, cashing in, or destroying assets once a divorce is filed. This rules applies to all property, including retirement accounts, real estate, stocks, investments, checking accounts, CDs, vehicles, furniture, etc. The purpose is to maintain the couple’s property as close to what it was on the date the divorce was filed. It prevents both spouses from damaging the other’s interests out of spite or anger, and allows the court to allocate the assets in the divorce property division. If a spouse violates this rule, the consequences can be rather serious, including contempt and a decrease in the ultimate divorce property division award.
This rule does not mean that all checking, business accounts, etc. are frozen immediately. Both spouses can spend money for expenses, etc. “in the usual course of business.” Of course, what expenses are in the usual course of business is not always very clear. Clearly, paying the mortgage, utilities, telephone, medical bills, etc. are reasonable expenses. But what about removing funds from an account for a vacation? Or a voluntary medical procedure? Or even withdrawing money from a CD for an early payoff of a loan balance? These actions often result in disputes that the judge must sort out in the final divorce property division.
A related issue is how to account for funds once they are cashed in or spent. The funds can no longer be returned to the account. The asset bought with liquidated funds might have decreased in value, such as a car or TV. With a vacation expense, there is no asset to show for the money spent. In these cases, the spouse who spent the money is often “credited” in the final divorce property division with the amount of money spent/withdrawn, rather than the actual value of the item purchased or asset cashed in.
There may be good reason to sell or cash in an asset. In that case, the best practice is to work with your divorce lawyer to draft an agreement, signed by both spouses and the judge. Family judges in Dane, Sauk, and most other Wisconsin counties usually sign such divorce property division agreements quickly and without question.