Many spouses worry about paying bills while a divorce is pending and before a court orders spousal support. This is particularly true where one spouse has significantly less income than the other. In some cases, there may also be fear that the monied spouse will spend or hide assets to avoid dividing them. The law addresses these concerns with the automatic orders rule. The rule temporarily protects the parties’ finances, including a spouse’s right to support during the pending divorce, until these matters can be otherwise settled.
Courts do not want spouses to walk away from their financial obligations just because they filed for divorce. The automatic orders rule is triggered upon filing of the divorce and requires the status quo to be maintained until there is a written agreement between the parties or a court order resolving the issue. Among the financial matters addressed by the rule are:
- Insurance policies. A spouse cannot remove the other one from insurance policies (health, auto, life, etc.)
- Household expenses. Ordinary expenses to maintain marital property must continue to be paid. 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.
- Assets. A spouse cannot sell assets, empty bank accounts or go on a buying spree. Courts prohibit waste of assets in divorce.
- Debts. Neither party can incur unreasonable debts or encumber marital assets except in the usual course of business or for customary or usual household expenses, or for reasonable attorney’s fees in connection with this action.
There are a few exceptions to maintaining the status quo. As noted above, a spouse is allowed to pay reasonable attorney’s fees related to the divorce. In addition, the parties can revise their wills to limit what their spouse would inherit if they died before the divorce was finalized. The will can state that the surviving spouse is only entitled to one-third of the value of the decedent spouse’s estate unless a prenuptial agreement provides otherwise.
It is important for spouses to be aware of their rights and responsibilities under the automatic orders rule. If one party fails to meet his or her obligations, a judge may hold the person in contempt.
If you are considering a divorce, contact us to help you get the best result possible in your divorce.