Bill and Marcie decided to end their stormy 13-year marriage. After Bill filed the divorce petition, he and Marcie started negotiating the final divorce settlement. One of the first things they did was to divide their bills and household expenses. Bill became concerned when he started receiving late notices from utility companies and the mortgage company. Marcie was living in the house, so he felt she should be paying all the household-related bills. But Marcie felt like Bill had always paid the bills and, as primary breadwinner, should continue doing so. They took the issue to their respective attorneys.
Joint Debts, Separate Debts
As couples head toward a negotiated divorce settlement, decisions are made about marital property. Debt is also divided along community debt and separate debt lines. Those lines can be a bit vague until the settlement is final, but the bills still keep rolling in.
If possible, both spouses could cover the bills by:
- Splitting the bills with each party paying approximately the same amount;
- Total the bills and have each spouse pay half;
- Temporarily separate the bills related to the home, if any, based on who is living at the home.
Each party should retain receipts of any bills they pay.
Spouse often keep joint credit cards. Typically, the balance due at date of separation may be considered to be marital debt owed by both parties. Sometimes people cancel joint credit card accounts so that one spouse does not run up a bill while the divorce is pending. However, if one spouse does use the card inappropriately, the other can ask for reimbursement.
Decisions about community debt and separate debt may be made on a case-by-case basis. For example, if Bill uses the joint credit card to pay expenses for the home that Marcie is still living in, it may be considered joint debt instead of Bill’s separate debt.
Sometimes one spouse is unable or unwilling to pay their fair share of the bills. In that case, the other spouse may pay the bills and request reimbursement. This may include situations where one spouse is living in the marital home while the other spouse pays the house-related expenses.
When Homes Are Involved
Mortgage companies, financial institutions, and landlords still expect to get paid. That’s reasonable. A party that is unable to pay a fair share of the expenses may ask the court to order the other spouse to temporarily pay them. For example, Marcie may ask a judge to order Bill to continue paying expenses although he is no longer in the home.
In situations where the couple leased or rented a home, things can become more complicated. Did both spouses sign the lease or only one? Did one spouse sign the lease, but now the other spouse is living in the leased property? The party or parties that signed the lease are still responsible for paying the lease. It’s best to discuss these situations with your attorney.
If Your Divorce Is Pending …
Protect yourself. Gather your bills and address their payment before late notices pile up.The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are experienced at all phases of divorce proceedings. Call us at 415-293-8314 to schedule a private appointment or visit our website. We maintain offices in San Francisco, Marin County, Oakland, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, San Jose, Gold River (Sacramento), Roseville, and surrounding communities.