It's common for one spouse to consider leaving the marital home prior to divorce. Apart from the emotional turmoil caused by the breakdown of the marriage, the financial implications of moving out can be equally overwhelming.
by WomansDivorce | Answers by Timothy McNamara, CDFA
One of the main questions that often arises is who is responsible for paying the bills after a spouse moves out. In most cases, the answer is not straightforward and depends on a variety of factors, such as who is legally responsible for the bills and debts, the terms of the separation agreement (if any), and the specific circumstances of the couple.
In general, the spouse who moves out of the marital home will still be legally responsible for his or her share of any joint debts and expenses. This includes financial obligations such as a mortgage or car payment, as well as property taxes and insurance on jointly held property. The spouse remaining in the home may be responsible for paying for the household expenses, such as utilities and home maintenance costs, unless otherwise agreed upon by both spouses.
In most cases, the person who is listed on a bill or debt is generally the one who is responsible for paying the bill. It’s important to note that in community property states, all debts incurred during the marriage are equally owed by both spouses, whereas debts incurred after a legal separation are generally excluded.
If the couple has joint bank accounts or credit cards, it's a good idea to determine how they will be managed going forward. Some couples may choose to close joint credit accounts and separate their finances, while others may continue to manage them jointly until the divorce is finalized.
In some cases, one spouse may be ordered by the court to provide financial support to the other spouse after leaving the marital home. This is known as temporary spousal support or alimony and may be awarded if one spouse has a significantly higher income or if the other spouse is unable to support themselves.
Ultimately, deciding who will pay the bills after one spouse moves will be based on each spouse’s financial status and the ability of the couple to work together going forward. It's also important to consult with a divorce attorney to understand your financial obligations and the legal impact of leaving the marital home. Moving out of the marital home could affect your rights to the marital home and impact custody decisions.
The following discussion addresses the financial obligations when one spouse moves out, along with tips on how to handle the situation.
What bills am I obligated to pay if I move out before divorce?
Marlene's Question: I am thinking about getting a divorce and want to move out of the house. Right now I pay about 40% of the mortgage and utility bills and my husband pays the rest. Obviously, I can't afford to get my own place if I continue to split these bills with him. What are my obligations to continue paying those bills if I move out?
Timothy's Answer: To answer your question as to what your obligations are, you first must break it down into two parts: 1) legal obligations vs. 2) moral obligations.
Defining what your legal vs. moral obligations are both very different. If you own your home and it is in your name or held jointly, you have a legal responsibility to continue to pay your financial obligations. You also would have a legal obligation to pay any other expenses which are in your name.
Morally, you face yet another challenge. If your agreement is to share expenses using a 60/40 division and you move out and no longer pay your agreed upon portion, then you have not honored your part of the agreement. It could be that your husband simply can't afford to live in the house without you contributing to the financial obligations. Were this to be the case, it would not be fair to your husband and will most certainly make your divorce that much more difficult. This means it will also make your life that much more difficult.
I would suggest you start by telling your partner exactly what you would like to do and see if it is possible. If your husband can't financially maintain the house without your financial contribution or if he doesn't want to pay the additional expenses by himself, you can always look into alternative options. These options might include you both moving out of the marital home, you moving out but living with a family member or friend while continuing to honor your financial obligations until you can move forward with your divorce.
If you're just moving out and not quite ready to start a divorce, a separation agreement might be a good idea. You can do your own separation paperwork with a company like Rocket Lawyer (#ad).
Is he responsible for paying the bills while we're separated?
MD's Question: My husband left the home because he was having an affair. Is he responsible for paying the mortgage and bills while we're separated?
Timothy's Answer: Whether your husband has any financial liability to make any mortgage payment or utilities payment will depend on whether or not his name on the mortgage note or your utility bills. If the mortgage is jointly held in both of your names, then you both have a legal responsibility to pay the mortgage note. The same would be true for the utilities. If the bills are not in your husband's name, he has no legal responsibility to pay any portion of these.
Regardless of your marital situation, all jointly held liabilities must be paid in a timely manner. Even if your husband does not contribute any funds, you will still be required to pay your bills on time. If neither of you pay the mortgage, the bank will send a "notice of default" after a few payments are missed and they will not hesitate to initiate foreclosure proceedings.
If you do not know how your bills are titled, you should call the bank that issued your mortgage and the utility companies to confirm who has the liability. It is important you make any liability payments on time so your credit will be preserved.