Who pays for what once the divorce suit is filed?
Couples filing for divorce must address the issue of who will pay what bills once they decide to file for divorce. These bills may include house payment or rent, insurance (home, car, life, health), utilities (water, gas, and electricity), telephone, cable, internet, home maintenance and repairs, taxes on the home, vehicle loan or lease payments, gasoline, vehicle maintenance, parking, groceries, clothing, grooming (barber, stylist), dry cleaning and laundry, entertainment and eating out, school supplies and fees; uninsured medical and dental expenses, drugs, child care, credit cards, and bank notes.
In today’s economy, supporting one household’s expenses on two paychecks is troubling. Supporting two households at the same time calls for discipline and cost cutting, even if both spouses work. Even the “stay at home" mom in a relatively affluent family may find she needs to work during the divorce. Don’t count on not having to do so after the divorce. I’ve seen too many women who end up with unsecured alimony payments from the ex-husbands who find themselves not receiving payments after the divorce.
DO NOT rely on any oral agreements with your spouse about who will pay what bills. Bad things happen to people who rely upon oral agreements. Ask the Court to make temporary orders concerning payment of bills. The judge is in a much better position to enforce payment obligations than you will be. Talk to your lawyer. Even a written agreement filed with the clerk is not as good (to a lawyer) as a written signed court order. One is enforceable. One is not.
Courts will make temporary orders allocating existing community expenses between the two spouses. If you add additional expenses such as a new car or a new wardrobe, once you file suit, don’t count on the court helping you by ordering the other spouse to pay. Judges realize everyone has to live. Live frugally and within your means if at all possible. If you must live on credit cards or borrowed money during the divorce suit, don’t be surprised if those debts follow you out of the divorce. The judge may very well award those debts to you.
Expect the first expense to be paid from income to be child support for the minor children. This expense almost always comes first. It is calculated by existing rules and customs. Other living expenses are expected to be curtailed to pay the child support. It is paramount; the most important of all expenses that the court will insure is paid. Everything else is subordinate. Child support is based in Texas on statutory guidelines with some allowance for variation. This is done to minimize variation in the percentages or amounts of child support paid.
Expect the parent who has the primary possession of the children to be allowed to stay in the family residence while the suit is pending. The court will make sure there is some money coming in to help keep the children in the house, whether it is called child support or interim spousal support.
Do expect to be ordered to pay some of the community’s existing bills and expenses from the child support or interim spousal support you receive while the suit is pending. Don’t count on receiving disposable income or “pocket money" while your spouse picks up all the family’s expenses.
As a practical matter, if your name is on a car note or a credit card bill, perhaps you should offer to pay it. That way you are in charge of protecting your credit, not the spouse whom you are divorcing. However, take into consideration the amount of the note when you negotiate who will pay what bills and who will receive support, if at all.
Remember, it generally works better for all involved, if the parties negotiate between themselves who will pay what. Their agreement can be reduced to an agreed order and signed by the court. If the parties can’t agree, expect the court to give them only a fraction of the amount of time they think necessary to present all the pertinent information to the court at a temporary orders hearing. It’s not uncommon for such hearing without children to be alloted half an hour of the court’s time.
Again, talk to your lawyer about the need for temporary orders. Who will pay what expenses and how they will be paid need to be addressed. Don’t trust to luck or the milk of human kindness. It often turns sour in a divorce.
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