How to Separate the Utility Bills in a Divorce

by Tom Streissguth

When a couple makes the decision to divorce, there are many financial issues to straighten out. One of these is the payment of household expenses, including utility bills. To keep a home running, bills for electricity, water, gas, and other services must be paid, either out of a joint account or by one spouse. Utility payments can be the subject of a casual agreement, a court order, or a marital separation agreement, depending on the circumstances.

Joint Accounts

If the divorcing couple intends to maintain a single household until the divorce is final, they must come to an agreement on the home's expenses. Many couples establish joint accounts in the course of a marriage; both spouses contribute either a part or whole of their individual income, and out of the joint account they pay household utilities and other expenses. The easiest method of paying utilities during a divorce is to maintain the joint account; if this is not feasible, the couple can agree to split the bills between them, with one spouse handling the same bill or bills each month.

Temporary Orders

When a couple files for divorce, and is unable to agree on the payment of household expenses, the bills can be subject to a court order. A family court judge will issue a temporary order setting down the required payment from each spouse for utility bills. In these cases, judges take into consideration the income and assets of each spouse, and try to arrive at a fair division. Each spouse must submit a financial disclosure before the court will issue the temporary order.

Spousal Support

The court may also order temporary spousal support while the divorce is in progress. In support orders, the spouse with the higher income is required to make monthly or regular payments to the other spouse for household expenses, including utility bills. The support payments can be used at the discretion of the receiving spouse. This is easier than separating utility bills for payment by two individuals, especially when two separate households are established during a marital separation.

Responsible Party

It's important to remember in this process that the person named on the utility bill is still legally responsible for paying the bill. Therefore, if one person is moving out of the marital household, or the bills are separated, the utility company should be contacted with any new information, including the name of the person who will now be solely responsible for payment. The non-paying party should verify with the utility company that this has been done, although it is not legal to place someone's name on a utility bill without that individual's permission to do so.