Sunday, August 24, 2008


Relationships, especially when they fall apart, can be costly ... and complicated.

Six years ago, after she had left her live-in boyfriend of five years, one of my readers learned this the hard way.

"I was the sole support during most of the time I lived with him," she writes. "Stupid me made his house payments, paid the bills, supported his drinking habit, bought new tires for his truck."

She also made a few of his child-support payments, and figures that she spent thousands on his expenses through the course of the relationship.

When she left, her soon-to-be ex took $800 out of a savings account they held jointly.

"I found out when my statement came in the mail," she writes.

He promised that his mother would pay back the money, which never happened, so my reader took all of her money out of the joint checking and savings accounts they held. The bank told her, however, that while either of them could close the accounts permanently, her name could not be taken off either account unless her ex-boyfriend also agreed to have her name removed.

He hasn't done so, though she has repeatedly asked him to remove her name from the accounts and warned him that, if he didn't, she would take out any money he put into the accounts. She never has followed through on that threat, though.

Recently, however, she discovered that there was a little more than $1,000 in the joint checking account and $6,000 in the joint savings account. She told her story to the bank teller, who told her that the money was technically hers, since her name is on the accounts. He suggested that she close the accounts and pocket the money.

She was tempted, my reader admits, but "my conscience got the better of me."

Several days later, however, she withdrew $800 from the account, recovering the money that her ex had taken when they broke up.

"An eye for an eye," she reasons.

She plans to allow a month to pass so that her ex will see the next bank statement, "get the picture" and close the accounts. But she admits that the rest of the money is pretty tempting.

"The $7,000 would help me recoup some of my losses," she writes.

She's torn. Should she give him one month to close the account with her name on it? Or should she take the money and close out the account herself?

"Ethically," she asks, "what's your take on this?"

The $800 was hers to recover, since her ex took it without her permission after their relationship had ended.

Tempting as it may be to empty his coffers to even the score, however, there is no ethical justification for such an action unless, during the relationship, there was a specific agreement that she would be repaid for whatever money she doled out on his behalf.

Absent such an agreement, the right thing for my reader to do is to contact her ex, let him know that she took $800 from their account to repay the "unauthorized loan" and tell him that, if he doesn't close the account, she will.

If she does close the account, she should get the balance in the form of a bank check and send it to him. Then she can finally close the books on this failed relationship.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


Anonymous said...

Living in a fantasy world can be costly, too. I'd like to be sympathetic, but frankly, women like this make me crazy. She picks a drunk, pays his bills and his child support, opens joint accounts with him even though she does most of the working, and for what? A "love" fantasy? If there was no agreement that he would pay back the money she spent on him (of course there wasn't) then that money was a gift she paid for the privilege of playing house with a bum. If she can figure out how much of the remaining money in the account was deposited by her, then she's entitled to it. After that, what difference does it make if her name is on the account? She had five years to figure out that he was an arrested development case whose mother had apparently taught him that women would come to his rescue. She won't be the last one for him, but let's hope he's the last "rescue romance" for her.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this doormat of a woman could get in touch with him and offer-no, demand-that she be allowed to clean his new apartment on a regular basis, and also wash his new woman's underwear.
Sometimes all this ethical stuff goes too far. She should be getting money from him for all her services over the years. So what if they didn't have an agreement-it is what is right.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Seglin ~

I almost always read your column and appreciate your perspective on various ethical issues.
Although I can understand your point that she should not take her ex-boyfriend's money "to even the score," she is at risk as long as her name is on any joint accounts. If he overdraws, etc. it will go against her credit rating also.

The bank was correct in saying either one can close a joint account. To protect her own interests and to be ethical about the money, she could [and I believe should] close the accounts and have cashier's checks or counter drafts [if the bank charges for cashier's checks] made payable to him for the balance, sending them certified mail to his address of record on the account. This would remove her name from the accounts and still allow him to keep his money. He can then open a new account with instant access at any bank he chooses. However, he will no longer be able to negatively affect her credit rating.

One of your Many Faithful Readers