Splitting Up and Not Married – Whose Money is it Anyway?

Q: My boyfriend and I been together for over 15 years. We have joint savings and checking accounts. We planned on getting married. However, after he won a settlement that was deposited in our joint account, he wants out of the relationship. Can I get in trouble for taking the money out of the account without telling him? I live in NY.

A: Thanks for reaching out, and I’m sorry to hear that things have gone sour with your boyfriend.

First, let me say that I am not an attorney, so what follows is not meant to be legal advice. I’m just telling you the facts about money management and account ownership as I know them.

But the short answer to your question is: No, you probably cannot “get in trouble” for taking the money out of the account – at least not with your bank.

The bottom line is that when two people open a joint account, in most states — and certainly in New York where you live — both parties have equal access to and ownership of the funds that go into a joint account.

Here’s an article from Bankrate.com on the risks of joint bank accounts that I’d suggest you read:

When you open a joint account in New York, there’s a presumption that you intend to create joint tenancy; and even if one person deposits, say, $50,000 in an account, the assumption is that the other party has a rightful claim to half of those funds. This is why the bank won’t stop either one of you from withdrawing half – or even all – of the money, if just one of you wants to make such a withdrawal.

Now the other BIG question you should ask yourself is: should I really be taking all this money? 

I realize, of course, that you’re probably very hurt and maybe angry too at your boyfriend and at how things have totally changed. I’m sure this isn’t what you pictured would happen after 2 decades of being together.

Read: How to Safeguard Your Finances During a Divorce

And maybe you were the one supporting the relationship financially, so perhaps you feel entitled to the money; maybe monetary promises were made to you about what would happen (fiscally and relationship-wise) when the settlement came through …. I don’t know.

I do know, however, that your boyfriend is naturally going to be very upset when he discovers that you’ve taken all the money out of the account without his knowledge or permission.

So prepare yourself to deal with that fallout; and if you feel you are legitimately entitled to the money (or at least half of it), maybe be prepared to explain to him why. Also, if you do plan on keeping the money, then you obviously should not re-deposit it into any of your joint checking or savings accounts; since he can then just withdraw it, just like you did.

I do hope everything works out for you. Feel free to follow-up with me later to let me know how things went, OK?

I’ll be praying for the best for you, because – money aside – I know this must be a very painful and disappointing situation.

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