Money is tight in a divorce. It’s a universal truth. It probably goes without saying that when people take a life that was formerly supported by two incomes, divide it in two, and then start funding two different lives separately, it can create some financial drama.
Divorce isn’t like a personal injury case, where the plaintiff is an injured person and the defendant is a big, bad insurance company. Big, bad insurance companies have a lot of money on hand, so it’s possible for them to pay the plaintiffs tons and tons of money to compensate them for whatever injury they may have suffered. Divorce isn’t like that at all. The plaintiff is a spouse and the defendant is the other spouse, and neither spouse has any more money during the divorce than they had before the divorce, so there’s no chance that anyone is going to walk away with any kind of windfall.
Not only that, but divorce will change the way things feel between you and your soon to be ex, pretty much from the moment of separation. If you haven’t separated yet, you’ve yet to experience the difference this will really make in your relationship. If you have, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Probably one of the most immediate and noticeable changes is that after separation the higher earning spouse (normally, the husband) will normally start having his paychecks direct deposited into a different account. Suddenly, everything has changed. Rather than providing money to help support the family, he feels like any money going into the joint account directly benefits his soon to be ex wife, and that just doesn’t sit right anymore. So, instead of providing any support at all, he withdraws all the support completely. Sometimes, he moves away. Sometimes, he stays right at home. Either way, though, the money that used to be used for the benefit of the family as a whole suddenly stays completely separate, which makes it considerably more difficult to pay the mortgage, rent, and other expenses associated with normal day to day living.
So, what do I do if he cuts me off?
Unfortunately, it’s not really a question “if” he’s going to cut you off; it’s a question of when. Hopefully, you’re doing a little pre separation planning right now, and you haven’t actually gotten to the point where your situation is completely dire. If you’re planning ahead of time, good for you! If not, we’ll talk about what your next steps should be in a minute.
If you’re planning ahead of time
The best thing you can do, before you separate, is plan ahead. Think about all the things (particularly the expensive things) that are going to need to be done or fixed in the coming months. Your car inspections, annual vet visits, and other check ups should be handled now, rather than later. If you need new tires, for example, it’s much easier to buy them now, with marital money, than it will be to buy them later on, when you have money that is just yours.
Not only that, but it’s a good idea, whenever you go to Target, Wal Mart, CVS, or the grocery store, to get a little extra cash back. The money you get back shouldn’t be enough to put your husband on high alert, but it may be enough, over time, to make moving out and renting a new apartment or re-stocking some of the things that your soon to be ex took out of the former marital residence a little bit easier. Keep in cash, somewhere that he won’t be likely to find it, and save it for a time when you get in a pinch.
If you’re in a pinch now…
And you’ve got fault based grounds
Sometimes, it isn’t always possible to plan ahead. Maybe he sprang the separation on you out of nowhere, or maybe you thought you would give yourself a little more time before you told him but it was Tuesday and you just couldn’t take it anymore. Whatever the reason, you shouldn’t be hard on yourself if you find yourself separated and not sure where to turn. It happens a lot, and an experienced attorney can help you navigate through some of the trickier parts of this period in your life.
If you’ve got fault based grounds you can use for your divorce, we can file for divorce right away. The advantage to that is that then we can schedule what is called a pendente lite (Latin for “while the litigation is pending”) hearing.
A pendente lite hearing is a hearing that allows a judge to award temporary child and spousal support (as well as a whole host of other things) while the divorce is pending. This hearing doesn’t look at the fault of either party; it’s not about making restitution of any kind for any bad behavior that may have occurred leading up to the divorce. It’s a practical hearing, designed to give the judge a chance to listen to the parties about how much money is coming in on either side. That way, the judge can figure out a way to award support so that the mortgage gets paid and the lights stay on and the fridge stays stocked until the divorce is finalized.
How does the judge know how much money you have?
At the pendente lite hearing, the judge will use something called an income and expense sheet to determine how much money each party has. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with this sheet, and to start thinking about where your money goes. Not only will this be a useful exhibit for the judge, but it will also give you an idea of where your money is being spent and where you can make cuts, if necessary.
When you fill out the form, keep in mind that it is referring to your monthly expenses—so you should only put what you have to pay for each of these things on a monthly basis. If you have an idea what you spend on something over the course of an entire year (like your child’s school tuition or what you spend on Christmas or birthday gifts), average it out by dividing the total amount you spend by 12. That will give you an accurate figure for what you spend, on average, each month, even though it may be summer right now and you’re not planning on buying Christmas presents. For things that change from month to month, again, try to determine what the average cost would be. For your child’s tuition or daycare expenses, for example, the cost may be different in the summer than during the school year, so you might want to get an average figure for that as well.
The income and expense sheet is pretty all encompassing, but if you find that there’s an expense that you have every month that is not covered, add it in by writing it in the margins. Do the best job you can estimating how much money comes in and how much money goes out every single month.
Your husband will have to provide a similar sheet to the court, and the judge will use it to determine whether or how much support to award at the pendente lite hearing.
If your sheet shows that you have a negative balance each month, that’s okay. It’s tempting to try to doctor the numbers so that you don’t end up with a negative number, but you don’t want to do that. You want your numbers to be as truthful and accurate as possible, and if your numbers are negative, what it shows the judge is that you desperately need support.
Don’t exaggerate, though, just so the judge will think that you are in desperate need of support. If you’re spending too much on any line item, you may find that you have to cut it out. After all, the judge can’t make money materialize that doesn’t exist, and if both you and your husband are showing negative balances on your income and expense sheet, it may be that there’s not a whole lot he can really even do to help. Try to be truthful, and try to see places where you could or should make cuts. Spending too much money on cable TV or even groceries? It may be time to cut back.
The income and expense sheet is incredibly important, and it’s definitely something you should take a look at, both as a tool for personal budget planning, and also as a possible exhibit to show the judge. If you’re in dire financial straits and you have fault based grounds, we use your fault grounds to get into court quickly and schedule a pendente lite hearing. That way, you’ll get the support you need to keep the lights on in the meantime so that you can focus on what you need out of the divorce while your case is pending.
And if you don’t have fault based grounds
If you don’t have fault based grounds, you can’t file for divorce until you’ve been separated for the statutory period (six months if you don’t have minor children AND already have a signed separation agreement, and one year otherwise). There’s really no point to scheduling a pendente lite (or PL) hearing, because by the time you can file for divorce after your separation period is up, you’ll be ready to move forward with getting the final divorce decree entered. At that point, you’ll either already have a signed separation agreement to move forward on, or you’ll schedule a trial, where the judge will divide all your assets and liabilities. After your final divorce decree is entered, you’ll receive either whatever support was agreed upon in your separation agreement, or whatever the judge ordered at your final trial, so you wouldn’t really need a pendente lite hearing anyway. You’ll start receiving support according to whatever schedule is already in place.
Your attorney will probably do her best to push for you and your husband to reach an agreement as soon as possible, and set a date for him to start paying support that is before your final divorce decree is entered. That way, you’ll receive some financial assistance in the days and months leading up to your final trial. Your attorney can’t force him to sign an agreement if he doesn’t want to, but that’s your best bet. The more quickly you reach an agreement (a good agreement, of course, not just any agreement), the more quickly you can start to receive the support you’ll need to make your life work.
It’s definitely not a very fun experience, and it’s definitely even more difficult in those awkward in between months, after separation but before divorce. There are rules before separation, and there are rules after divorce, but in that interim period, it’s hard for both parties to know what to expect or how to behave. Like most things, a little planning ahead can make things a lot easier and, if you weren’t able to do that, it’s nice to know that you can move forward in another way to help make sure that the mortgage and utility bills get paid while you’re waiting for that final decree of divorce to get entered.
To get some help scheduling your pendente lite hearing or filling out your income and expense sheet, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.