Paying Expenses When Spouses Separate

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Expenses continue to accumulate, even when spouses are separated, including house expenses, loan payments and family expenses. Spouses who are separated face an important question: Who will pay for expenses now that they are no longer together?

House Expenses

Who will pay house expenses depends on the needs, finances and general situation of each spouse. Both of them must act in good faith and show common sense until they reach an agreement or until a court decision decides who pays for what.

If both spouses still live in the home, they can continue to pay the expenses the way they always have while they try to reach an agreement. If they can't come to an agreement, they can ask a judge to step in and make an emergency decision.

Example

John and Irene have separated. During their marriage, John made the mortgage payments while Irene paid for the groceries and made the car payments. Both of them want to live in the house after the divorce is final. During the divorce proceedings, they asked for a judge to make an emergency decision about who is allowed to stay in the house and on what conditions. They have to wait a few days or weeks for the judge to hear their request. In the meantime, they can continue to share the expenses as they've always done.

When One Spouse Stops Paying

Sometimes, one spouse decides to stop paying his or her share. Is this allowed? What can the other spouse do? Here are a few solutions:

Only One Spouse Owns the House

Both Spouses Own the House

  • It is generally in the interest of the spouse who owns the house to make sure the taxes, mortgage and house insurance are paid. If these payments are not made, the bank or the city could get a court decision against the spouse who owns the house, and then seize and sell the property.
  • The spouse who does not own the house but who lives in it contributes to paying the expenses according to what he or she can afford.
  • The spouse responsible for any payments should continue to pay them. For example, imagine that the house belongs only to John, but Irene is also responsible for mortgage payments to the bank. If John does not pay, the bank could go after both Irene and John.
  • The spouses should in principle share the house expenses (e.g., mortgage, taxes, house insurance). If one of the spouses refuses or neglects to pay his or her share, the other could pay it and then ask to be reimbursed.

    The spouse who makes the payments should keep proof of payment (e.g., bills, bank statements, receipts, photocopies of cheques).

  • If one of the spouses no longer lives in the house, that spouse can continue to pay his or her share of the expenses and ask for financial compensation from the other spouse for not being allowed to use the house.

    The spouses could also agree that the person living in the house pays all of the house expenses, but gives up the right to claim compensation from the other spouse, who has given up the right to live there.

When One Spouse Can't Pay

A spouse who can't pay can ask a judge to order the other spouse to pay or to temporarily help pay the house expenses.

Example

John owns the house, but he has gone to live somewhere else. He is refusing to pay the expenses for the house his wife Irene lives in, even if he is able to. Irene can't afford the expenses. She can ask a judge to make an emergency decision ordering John to pay some of the house expenses.

When Neither Spouses Can Pay

In some cases, neither spouse can pay the house expenses after the separation. In this case, they can consider putting the house up for sale.

However, if one spouse wants to sell the house but the other doesn't, the one who wants to sell can ask a judge to order the sale of the house and set the conditions of the sale.

In all cases, it can be very helpful for the spouses to advise their bank or financial institution of their situation.

Expenses Involving Rent

If the spouses rent, what happens when the spouse who signed the lease leaves after the separation and stops paying?

Usually, the spouse who signed the lease must pay. If this spouse doesn't pay, the owner can ask the Régie du logement (rental board) to end the lease and order financial compensation.

In other words, the spouse who is no longer paying rent can be sued, and the other spouse might be forced to leave the apartment.

To avoid having to leave, the spouse who did not sign the lease can pay the rent and ask a judge for an emergency decision giving exclusive right to live in the apartment. If this spouse can't afford the rent, he or she can ask a judge to order the other spouse to continue paying the rent temporarily.

Also, it is possible for one spouse to take the other's place as the person on the lease. To do this, the spouse whose name is not on the lease must send a written notice to the owner within two months after the separation. Once this spouse is on the lease, he or she must pay the rent.

When One Spouse Pays Expenses for the Other Spouse

When a couple separates, one spouse might be making payments for the other spouse to avoid losing important property or to prevent damage to his or her credit rating.

The spouse paying can ask to be paid back, no matter the reason. This spouse will generally be refunded, but there is no guarantee. It is important to keep proof of payment (e.g., bills, bank statements, receipts, photocopies of cheques).

In addition, since the refund of expenses is not considered urgent, the spouse must wait for the final divorce judgment to learn whether or not the judge will order reimbursement.

However, the spouse paying can ask the judge to make an emergency decision to temporarily settle which spouse is responsible for which expenses.

The spouse paying can also try to reach an agreement with the other spouse before paying an expense.

Credit Cards and Joint Bank Accounts

Usually, the money in a joint bank account must be divided equally. If one spouse spends the other's share, the spouse whose money was spent can ask a judge for reimbursement.

The spouses can call the bank together to cancel a joint credit card. If one spouse used the card after the separation, the other spouse can demand that he or she pay the entire credit card bill.

Each situation is unique. A spouse who uses a credit card to pay the family's debts is not in the same situation as a spouse who uses a credit card to buy a new wardrobe.

Child Expenses

Both spouses must pay child expenses based on their incomes and other financial resources.

Sometimes one spouse takes on full responsibility for the children after the separation. Usually, the spouse who does not have custody must pay child support to the other.

If the spouse without custody does not make the equivalent to child support payments, the one with custody can claim the amount the other was supposed to pay.

Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.