Joint assets are usually frozen until the financial aspects of divorce have been resolvedand this prevents spouses from accessing – and potentially wasting – marital funds. However, a spouse can still ask a judge to unfreeze joint accounts. This occurred when a former college football coach asked a judge to vacate a mutual restraining order preventing him from accessing joint funds. He argues that these funds are necessary to pursue a lawsuit against his former employer. Is this strategy even viable?

Coach Argues that Successful Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Will Benefit His Wife

In making his request, the coach in question argued that his chances of success are high – and that his estranged wife would benefit from this legal victory. According to him, it is in her best interests to give him access to the joint funds. A court in Michigan has already ruled that these joint assets should not be used for personal legal expenses. 

According to his wife, he has already spent about $1.5 million of the couple’s joint assets on legal fees. In other words, the restraining order was intended to contain the damage rather than prevent it entirely. Seeing as the coach has already taken a seven-figure chunk out of the marital estate, it seems unlikely that a judge would allow him to take another bite. 

The coach’s lawsuit revolves around his alleged wrongful termination. Somewhat ironically, he is accused of sexually harassing someone who was trying to educate his college football team about sexual harassment. In his defense, the coach complains that the incident (which apparently occurred over the phone) was purely consensual. In the aftermath of this incident, his employer canceled his contract – preventing him from collecting about $75 million. 

Despite the coach’s promise to sue the school for wrongful termination, he has yet to do so. Currently, his legal fees seem to be centered around defending himself in a separate lawsuit filed by the alleged sexual harassment victim. The phone call was apparently just one of many unwelcome advances made by the coach. An independent investigator later concluded that even after the phone call, the coach engaged in quid pro quo sexual harassment against the woman. The problem is that even if the phone call was consensual, it would have still allowed the college to fire the coach based on a policy against relationships between employees. 

In light of these controversies, it should come as no surprise that the coach is also attempting to keep the divorce out of the public record. He argues that if certain details of the divorce become public, it will affect his chances of getting another job. However, one might argue that the damage has already been done – and that the coach’s reputation is already ruined (through no fault of the wife). 

Should Spouses Gain Access to Marital Funds When Funding Lawsuits?

Although it seems unlikely that he will gain access to the funds he needs to cover his legal fees, the coach’s situation raises interesting questions. What if a spouse needed to pay legal fees for an almost guaranteed victory? Would a judge agree to give access to marital funds to serve the best interests of both spouses? It is worth mentioning that most plaintiffs (including those in wrongful termination lawsuits) do not have to pay any legal fees until they win due to a contingency-fee system.