Q&A: Who Pays the Bills During Divorce?

This question about who pays the bills during a divorce or separation is a good one. Are you obligated to continue to pay the bills if you move out of the marital residence for example? What if you are the wife and your husband moved out and stopped paying the mortgage which is jointly in your names?

It is all a very gray area. The answer I think can be a legal question or an ethical one, or both. For the legal question, the court will answer and the court will look at the marriage history and the standard of living and make a determination. Without the court’s intervention, the couple can come to an agreement based on ethical duties to each other. If the husband was the main breadwinner he could agree to continue to pay the bills, but keep in mind that if he moves out he will need to get a place of his own and will now have two sets of bills to pay. This may not be feasible and the wife could agree to accept less than he used to pay when he was living under the same roof. In other words, reasonable couples can agree to how this will all work.

Strategically, it sometimes may be in a party’s interest to stop paying the bills until a court order is instituted because if they voluntarily pay a certain amount and then voluntarily leave the marital home they stand to lose not just the marital residence in the settlement (and possibly custody) but being locked into paying a particular sum during the pendency of the divorce all because they tried to be the good guy (or gal) and continued to pay bills even though they were not legally obliged to.

Clearly, no matter what the situation, if there are minor children, support has to be paid and it is easy to figure out how much by looking at the state guidelines (which, I believe, every state has).