Marriage is an economic partnership under the law. When you are married, both you and your spouse have a one hundred percent right to each other’s income. You also have a duty to support each other. This is true even if one of you isn’t earning any money. A spouse who stays home is still providing financial benefits to the other spouse, such as taking care of the home, children, or other responsibilities. However, once a spouse files for divorce, these rules change. Income is no longer marital property in divorce. Expenses are also treated differently. If you are considering divorce, it is important to understand what financial rights and obligations you and your spouse have to each other.
- Income becomes separate property. During marriage, income is considered “marital property,” which is simply property acquired after the parties’ wedding date up to the date a divorce is filed. Marital property is divided between the parties in divorce. However, upon filing of a divorce action, each spouse’s income becomes his or her “separate property,” even though the marriage is still intact legally. Separate property is property acquired before the parties’ wedding date, after filing for divorce, or through inheritance or a gift made directly to a party during the marriage provided it remains titled solely in that party’s name. Such property is not split in divorce unless it is converted into marital property.
- Expenses become separate with a crucial exception. Each spouse is responsible for his or her own expenses once the divorce action starts, except for those related to maintaining marital property. For example, mortgage and car loan payments, property and health insurance premiums, and similar costs remain joint expenses until the divorce process finally determines how they will be treated once the marriage is dissolved.
- There is still a right to support. The automatic orders rule, which is triggered when a divorce action is filed, requires the status quo to be maintained until there is a written agreement between the parties or a court order. Spouses cannot walk away from their financial obligations just because they filed for divorce. Generally, the spouse who earns less is entitled to be paid spousal support. If the parties cannot agree on the amount, they can go to court, and the judge will order temporary support to be paid until a final support determination is made.
Filing for divorce changes the nature of a couple’s economic relationship. However, courts do not want to leave one side with insufficient funds while the divorce is pending. It is important to get good legal advice when negotiating financials as each side works to separate their income and expenses.
If you are considering a divorce, contact us to help you get the best result possible in your divorce.