Family Law Blog

What Should You Do With Joint Bank Accounts During Separation?

Many couples have joint bank accounts. That might be for day to day transactions, joint savings, credit cards or any number of others.

However, during the separation process, maintaining a joint bank account can become challenging on any number of levels.

It is particularly difficult if one partner has an income that the other partner has relied upon, or joint debt that requires ongoing payments.

In this article we’ll run through some of the principles around joint bank accounts during separation, and provide some options for you to consider as you work through the process.

As Tempting As it Is, You Usually Shouldn’t Pocket the Money

There are many reasons you might decide that it’s a good idea to empty any joint accounts that hold funds.

You might need those funds to pay day-to-day expenses.

You might think that you need to “get in first” before your ex does the same thing, so you can protect the funds.

You might be feeling hurt or betrayed, and decide that revenge is best served by going on a spending spree.

Whatever the case, the general principle is that you should be highly cautious before deciding to withdraw bulk funds from a joint account during separation. There are a couple of main reasons for this.

First – The Strategic Reason

Withdrawing the funds without consent will likely create a situation where all sorts of accusations, investigations and speculations about your intentions – whether or not you even had bad intentions for the money, will be made. This will also potentially include having to explain to the court why you removed joint funds without consulting the other person.  This will all mean more work and more in legal costs.

Withdrawing those funds could also potentially accelerate the relationship breakdown, foster more mistrust, and result in more challenging settlement negotiations right from the start.

Second – The Legal Reason

Let’s say you withdraw the funds from the joint bank account and then spend them (whether immediately or over time).

As you know from our article here, during the property settlement process the parties and the Court need to arrive at a conclusion about what the assets of the relationship were. You and your ex will then agree, or the Court will make orders, about how those assets are to be distributed between you and your ex.

Now, if you’ve withdrawn and spent funds from a joint account, here’s what might happen:

  1. That money could still be treated as an asset of the relationship; and
  2. You could be determined to have already received it (ie – it will be deducted from any payment you might otherwise receive).

So, at the end of the day, withdrawing the money might not leave you any better off – and could well put you in a worse position.

The Best Play for Joint Accounts During Separation

If you have joint accounts and you are seriously concerned about what your ex might do, or even just want to protect your position, the best thing you can do from the start is contact the bank/s and freeze the account/s.

Then, nobody will be able to withdraw without the other’s consent.

Then, from that protected position, you (or your family lawyers) can negotiate something with your ex, or seek Court Orders setting out the rules about accessing those funds.

But It’s Not One Size Fits All

There are, of course, always exceptions to these general principles.

Circumstances involving extreme hardship or domestic violence always make some of these decisions more difficult.

As always, if you are going through separation then having sound legal advice at each step of the way is the best protection from your decisions coming back to bite you later.

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