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Ask a Lawyer

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By Pierce Kelley

R.P. of Old Town asks, “My wife of 14 years has run off with another man, leaving me with all of the bills and all of the kids. She took everything with her, except for a retirement account she had from where she last worked. How can I prevent her from closing that account and taking all the money out? I’m entitled to half of that, aren’t I? She is no longer a resident of the state of Florida and now lives in another state.”

Dear R.P.;

You live in Dixie County, which is in Florida’s Eighth Judicial Circuit, along with Columbia, Madison, Lafayette, Hamilton, Suwannee and Taylor counties. There is a “Standing Family Law Court Order,” signed by the Chief Judge of the Third Judicial Circuit, which prohibits either party in a divorce proceeding from “selling, transferring, encumbering, concealing, assigning, removing or in any way disposing” of any “real, personal or mixed” property without an agreement from the other spouse or a court order. Similar protections are available to readers in the Eighth Judicial Circuit, which includes Levy and Alachua counties.

So, after you file for divorce, assuming it is your desire to do so, your wife cannot touch that retirement account without your permission or a court order allowing her to do so, since the proceeds of that account would be considered a “marital asset,” or moneys which were accumulated during the marriage, and yes, as a general rule, you would be entitled to half of that money.

If you haven’t filed for divorce yet, in order to prevent your wife from withdrawing the moneys from her retirement account, you would be well-advised to immediately file for divorce and make certain that your wife understands that she would be violating the Court’s Standing Order if she took any money from that account.

Incidentally, although you didn’t ask, under Florida law, the Circuit Court in and for Dixie County, which hears all divorce matters, among many other things, would have jurisdiction over your wife and her property, even though she lives in another state, due to Florida Statute 48.193 (e) which provides that a person who “…maintained a matrimonial domicile in (Florida) prior to the commencement of the action, whether cohabiting during that time or not”…is subject to Florida law. So, even though she now lives in another state, the “long-arm” of Florida’s law has jurisdiction over her.

RP, I hope the foregoing answers your question. Any readers with specific legal questions for this “Ask a Lawyer” column are invited to submit that question to the Editor, who will pass it along to the attorney. If you need help with filing a divorce petition, and you cannot afford an attorney, you can call the closest Legal Services office, which provides free legal assistance to qualified individuals, or call the Florida Bar Referral service at 1-800-342-8011. I wish you good luck in pursuing justice.

The foregoing was written by attorney Pierce Kelley, who is a member of the Florida Bar Association. The contents reflect his personal opinions and beliefs.