Joint Bank Accounts and Separation
Smooth and simple separations are the exception rather than the norm, for fairly straightforward reasons. When the time comes to separate from a spouse or de facto partner, emotions run high, stress levels peak, particularly where money is involved (as it most often is, especially for couples who have been together for a long time). It’s only human.
Parties to a marriage or de facto relationship may become fearful that the other party may take money out of jointly held accounts for their own purposes – or they may be tempted to do so themselves.
Is taking money out of a joint bank account when there is a separation advisable? In short, no – but read on.
Take an example couple who we’ll call Katie and Tom.
For family law purposes, if Tom withdraws and spends money from a joint bank account, those funds may (likely) still be treated as an asset of the marriage – notwithstanding that they no longer exist! In all but the most exceptional of circumstances, the funds will be notionally added back to the pool as an asset of Tom’s, and he may find, when property settlement concludes, that he is now liable for a debt that he no longer has the ability to repay.
If Katie were to withdraw the joint funds without Tom’s consent, this would most likely accelerate the relationship breakdown. It would certainly place a great deal of strain on what is most likely a fragile relationship. Katie may find that, in future, Tom is less willing to work amicably and in good faith towards finding a just and equitable resolution to the issue of future property settlement (or any other matters). Future negotiations may become drawn out and difficult where trust between the parties has been eroded. Trust ought to be preserved between the parties to a separation wherever possible, especially if there are children of the marriage and/or significant assets to divide.
There are exceptions. It may be necessary for Katie to withdraw the joint funds if, say, there is a history of domestic violence and Katie cannot support herself. Alternatively, Tom may be justified in withdrawing funds if Katie has a proven record of financial mismanagement – for example, where there are gambling or addiction issues. However, this is the exemption rather than the rule and the decision to withdraw funds from a joint bank account post-separation ought not be made lightly.
If you are fearful that your spouse or partner may attempt to improperly access funds in a joint bank account, you should contact your bank and ask that the account be frozen until the separation is resolved.
If you have any questions or queries, contact us today for a free 30-minute no obligation consultation.
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