Estimating Housing Expenses During a Divorce

Guidelines for estimating housing expenses when developing a budget during the divorce process

During the divorce process, developing a budget is a critical component of valuing the marital estate (what a couple owns minus what a couple owes = the marital estate) and dissolving the marriage. Both parties and their divorce lawyers should create one (or more) budgets. You and your divorce lawyer should consider the following when budgeting for housing expenses:

Mortgage Payment / Rent

Residential occupancy costs will take the form of either a mortgage payment or rent. If the couple owns a home with a mortgage, the current budget will include an amount for the mortgage on one of the party’s budgets, not both. It is usually best to make one party responsible for the payment (as opposed to splitting it) to avoid confusion on the part of the lender and to easily fix responsibility and consequence if the payment is not made. The post-divorce budget will be anticipatory in nature. That is, the parties will be estimating future costs for rent or, if they are financially able, purchases of homes.

Utilities (heat, electricity, water, other)

The party who has remained in the family residence will include historical costs for utilities in his or her current budget figures. The post-divorce utility figures will be the same if the party is going to retain the house. However, for the party moving into a different residence, utility costs must be estimated to complete the budget process. Utility companies can often provide information on costs incurred on prospective rentals or houses that are going to be purchased. The utility companies may also be able to provide more general averages of costs that might be expected to be incurred. Because of general uncertainties inherent in shifting residences due to a divorce, a reasonable estimate is this area may be the best that can be expected.

Telephone

Basic telephone costs do not normally vary significantly within a specified geographic area. That is, the basic cost for two houses sitting next to each other will be the same. Variable costs associated with phones can, however, be significantly different from house to house. This is especially true in the incurrence of long distance charges. For example, a wife with family in a distant state will normally incur significantly more long distance fees than her husband whose family lives locally. Historical phone usage can be a very good indicator of current and future phone costs. Taking some time to determine who needs the more costly services can make the budget figures more accurate. The pervasiveness of cell phones and the seemingly infinite number of associated plans can add a layer of complexity to budgeting for this item, not to mention another issue to be resolved in dissolving the marriage. Since the costs of phones and plans are not terribly expensive, the divorce lawyers might consider encouraging both parties to obtain independent phones and participation plans early in the divorce process.

Maintenance (housing)

The budget figures for house maintenance can be significantly different for spouses. For example, assume that a husband had performed all of the maintenance on the family residence during the marriage. His annual maintenance costs could be obtained from charges or checks written to the local hardware store. However, if the wife is not skilled in the physical upkeep of the house, her budget figures would start at the disbursements to the hardware store to which would be added the cost of hiring someone to actually perform the maintenance. Significant physical defects to the residence are not usually addressed under the heading of maintenance; rather, this type of major expense should be used to adjust the value of the residence on the marital estate division or corrected as part of the divorce process.

Other

Other housing-related items also should be accounted for as part of housing expenses. These include property taxes (if not included in a mortgage payment), Internet costs, and neighborhood association dues.