Many couples choose to handle their finances by opening a joint account. Some pool resources, or save for holidays, whilst others use it to pay bills and other household expenses. Joint accounts can be set up in several ways so that transactions need both parties signatures or only one, which presents few problems when the relationship it ticking along. But issues can, and often do, arise when couples separate, and the amicability previously enjoyed has disappeared. So, is it possible to make one-sided changes to joint accounts? Read on to find out.
Does my ex have to consent before I close the account?
If both of you are joint signatories on the account and one wishes to close it, you must first get the consent of the other party before doing anything. The bank cannot take any steps to close the account until they receive confirmation from both parties.
However, if the bank account has been set up requiring only one signatory, it can be closed by that person acting alone without getting the other’s consent to the closure. This doesn’t mean any money left belongs to the person closing the account, as it will still be regarded as matrimonial property. Any money transferred out of a joint account into a personal one will be taken into account by the court when considering division of the couples assets.
Are there any actions my ex can take to prevent me dealing with our joint account?
- Your ex could think about changing the account from a sole to a joint signatory. This will have the effect of requiring both parties consent is sought if movement of funds is to be made.
- Either party is legally entitled to empty all funds from a joint bank account completely, but must account for it in the future division of assets. Where one party has concerns their ex may remove funds in advance of the divorce, it is possible for one party to notify the bank and ask them to intervene without getting the consent of the other party. The bank will freeze the account, and cannot act without receiving instructions from both parties.
Not all banks will authorise this kind of action on the instructions of just one party, so you may need to consult your bank on this issue. In certain circumstances, it is possible to seek an injunction from the court.
Can I freeze the account instead?
Freezing an account should be carefully considered. Although it may protect your position while your finances are sorted out, any important regular payments such as mortgage or loan instalments may be affected. Typically, once a bank account is frozen, both account holders will need to agree before any payments, direct debits, etc, are made from the account.
What can I do if my ex has emptied our joint account?
Any money removed by your ex is still a matrimonial asset. This type of behaviour is viewed dimly by the court and could well be considered as conduct sufficient to affect the overall financial settlement. As stated above, a freezing injunction may be applied for, although you will have to prove to the court that there is a real risk that those assets would be dissipated if the freezing order was not made.
Before doing anything, you should try to discuss with your ex how you would like to divide any funds left in the joint account. This could lead to an agreement removing the need for any acrimonious disputes in relation monies both parties are entitled to. Fundamentally, if you can both agree that one of you will take over the joint account, then depending on your bank’s rules, it may be as simple as clearing any overdraft debts on the account and signing forms agreeing to the removal.
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