Thousands of British couples are financially ‘cheating’ on their partners by operating secret bank accounts and by hiding debts, according to new research.
The Co-operative Bank found that married and cohabiting couples have a total of £41billion debt that their partners know nothing about.
One in seven men admitted concealing debt compared with one in ten women. On average, men owed £14,228, while women had debts of £22,418. Just over one in five people said they keep their finances separate from their partner and don’t have any form of shared bank account.
Legal experts say the figures are alarming because couples could be liable for each other’s debts. If a relationship breaks down or one of the partners dies, the remaining partner could be legally bound to pay off large sums even though they are totally innocent and had not got into debt themselves.
Thousands hide secret accounts from their partners
The Co-op research also revealed that at the other end of the scale, couples were investing a total of £22.8billion into secret accounts without telling their partners. This is equally worrying, especially for cohabiting couples who don’t have the same legal rights as married couples.
If the partner with the secret account dies, the money invested may go to their family rather than the surviving partner because cohabitants have no automatic right of inheritance.
Secret accounts could also create problems when a couple divorce. They are legally bound to declare all their assets. If they fail to do so they could face severe legal consequences.
Christina Blacklaws, Director of Family Law at The Co-operative Legal Services, says: “Many people facing relationship breakdown may be shocked to find out that they may have responsibility for their ex-partner’s debts, even if they were not aware of them, or may not have any rights to assets or property which they themselves may have invested into. Even if your partner dies, debts may well be passed on to you as an individual or to the estate.
“Legally speaking if a married couple decide to divorce they have to disclose all of their money and assets as part of the process to the Courts, if a pre nuptial agreement has not been agreed. Therefore any hidden cash should not remain secret, and there can be severe consequences should these not be made known.”
Legal experts say it’s important for couples to be honest and open with each other about their financial affairs. If they’re not, they could create financial and legal problems for both themselves and their partners.