Should we open a joint account?

There are lots of decisions to make during a relationship and perhaps even more so when parties begin cohabiting. One of the questions which sometimes comes up is whether or not you should have a joint bank account with your partner? Here, Lisa Brown looks at what a joint account means from the perspective of couples, the bank, and family law.  

This is obviously a personal decision and can vary between couples. It can be helpful from a practical point of view if you have a lot of joint expenditure, but it would be sensible to agree some ground rules about usage and how much each party is expected to contribute from the outset.

From the bank’s perspective, for example, if one party were to run up a large overdraft on a joint account, they would still generally consider that to a joint liability.  Similarly, from a family law point of view if a cohabiting couple are separating the starting point would be that assets are divided as they are held legally so any savings in a joint account should be shared equally, and any joint borrowing should be borne equally.

To have some clarity between you, it might be sensible to have a cohabitation agreement which can deal with how any assets would be divided on separation (including any joint accounts) and also, if you wish, how outgoings will be met during the relationship.

These agreements are not currently 100% binding, but they are very useful and are becoming more and more popular.

What about if you are married?

Lots of married couples have joint accounts but it is not a pre-requisite, and some choose not to.

Back in February Chloe Madeley hit the headlines when she revealed that she went back to work 8 weeks after giving birth citing the fact that she doesn’t have a joint account with her husband, James Haskell (and presumably that in effect they both financially support themselves).

Whilst obviously it is for every individual couple to decide on their own financial arrangements during their relationship this statement does give the impression that simply because there is no joint account there is no financial links or accountability between Chloe and James.

This is not the case for married couples or those in civil partnerships.  The legal starting point is quite different to couples who simply live together.  When you enter into a marriage or civil partnership you immediately gain the ability to make a wide range of financial claims against your partner (and likewise they have those claims against you).

If your marriage or civil partnership were to come to an end and you cannot agree how assets should be divided, then the court has the power to divide them between you in line with the factors set out in Section 25 Matrimonial Causes Act.  These factors include (amongst other things) the assets and income of each party, length of the relationship and the contributions you have each made.

The court is not bound to consider monies in a joint account joint nor monies in one person’s sole name as money to be retained solely by them.

There can, however, be circumstances where it is relevant where monies have been held.  For example, if one party had received an inheritance the court may be more minded to exclude that from any settlement if it had always been kept separate in a sole account.

If you or somebody you know wants to understand their legal position better whether they are cohabiting, thinking about cohabiting, engaged or married they should contact one of our specialist family lawyers today.

If you need advice on this topic, or any other matters concerning forced marriage, please get in touch with our team at


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