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A man's hands holding a jar full of notes and coins

Should I open my own bank account?

Sunday 24th of September 2023
By: Gillian Coote, Coote Family Lawyers - The Guardian

They may have won battles, but we won the war.

The Guardian chats to Gillian Coote about shared finances in relationships and why couples are changing their approach to money.

Hannah McElhinney and her partner, Hannah, share a lot.  A name, a life, a dog, an apartment.  But after eight years there is one thing the couple don't share - a bank account.  Despite being newly engaged and planning a wedding, their finances are separate to the point of having separate home loans.

Separate home loans might seem unusual, but the decision to never combine financial lives is becoming more common.  Though these are not scholarly sources, a 2021 attitudinal survey from YouGov found 75% of Australian millennials believed traditional joint accounts "are not suited for modern relationships", while a 2023 US survey from Bankrate found that 43% of gen Z and 31% of millennials prefer to keep all of their accounts separate.  For older generations - where shared expenses like school activities and mortgages are more common - the figures were under 20%.

Gillian Coote has seen the same pattern and believes it is a symptom of a broader scepticism of commitment, often informed by personal experience.  She says the shift towards keeping finances separate is partly generational, but it also occurs in "second marriages, second relationships later in life".

For women in particular, sharing money can also lead to the fear of being controlled by a partner.  Gillian says that a more visible public conversation about financial abuse has left people feeling defensive about maintaining agency over and access to money.  "If I see someone, and they're often women, who doesn't have an account in her own name, that's a massive lack of control and power" Gillian says.

But while keeping individual accounts allows for day-to-day freedom, it should be stressed that from a legal perspective, in Australia, separate finances make little difference if a couple decides to separate.

"Keeping it separate doesn't protect it", Gillian says.  "Because of the Family Law Act, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter whose account it's in".  Without a prenup, couples who have been living together for more than two years can make claims on each other's assets if they split up - married or not.  In the short term, "it gives you power of control in terms of if you're left or you leave ... but it doesn't change the outcome".

Not surprisingly, Gillian says, "there is a remarkable increase in prenups and cohabitation agreements".

After seeing many relationships come apart over money, Gillian believes that, rather than scrutinising receipts, couples should come to financial arrangements that give both parties "responsibility and control".  Each partner should feel they contribute to the household - be that through cash or labour.  They also need to have access to money - whether it's their own or shared.

For Gillian, the simplest way to strike that balance is for couples to "have a joint account" but also "have separated accounts - because you should be able to run your life".

But no arrangement can guarantee a stable and fair household where all parties are rewarded and respected equally. Gillian's only suggestion on that front is communication.  "It's very important that people have open conversations about their expectations ... in terms of how they're going to fund a joint lifestyle while making joint decisions."

You can read the full article here:  An account of one's own?  Why couples are changing their approach to money

If you have any questions or concerns, or simply need advice please do not hesitate to contact our team of top Melbourne family lawyers on 03 9804 0035.

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