Can I empty joint bank accounts while in the throes of separation?
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Separating from a de facto partner or spouse is an incredibly
stressful event. It can happen suddenly, for example, when an
affair is discovered, or it can be a slow winding-down of what
started as a blissful and loving union. In either case, emotions
run high and people are often justifiably fearful that their
formerly beloved partner may unilaterally withdraw funds from joint
bank accounts for their own benefit.
This inevitably leads to both parties considering whether they
should access the funds first to preserve, or spend, them before
the other can.
There are scenarios where it may be necessary to withdraw joint
funds; for instance, if there is a history of domestic violence and
the partner trying to leave cannot support themselves, or where
there are genuine gambling or addiction issues. However, except for
those extreme cases, I would caution parties not to jump the gun
and access joint funds without first seriously thinking about the
Accessing joint funds without the other party’s consent is a
sure-fire way to cause further strain on what is already likely to
be a tenuous relationship. It often results in the other party
being more difficult in subsequent negotiations because trust has
been completely eroded. Imagine the role was reversed and your
recently separated spouse did this to you; do you think it would
affect your behaviour towards them?
You should never access joint funds during a period of
separation with the intention of spending them extravagantly. For
one, it will deplete your property pool. Secondly, it may be that,
for family law purposes, those funds are notionally added-back to
the pool as an asset of yours, even though they no longer
If you are genuinely concerned your ex, or soon-to-be ex, will
access joint funds without consulting you, you can contact your
bank and request that the account be immediately frozen. When that
occurs, the bank will then only permit transactions that are
jointly approved by both account holders.
Cooper Grace Ward is a leading Australian law firm based in
This publication is for information only and is not legal
advice. You should obtain advice that is specific to your
circumstances and not rely on this publication as legal advice. If
there are any issues you would like us to advise you on arising
from this publication, please contact Cooper Grace Ward
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