Divorce for The Stay-At-Home Spouse
Many a stay-at-home spouse face a daunting situation: they want a divorce but they do not have a large enough income on which to survive. The thought of what their spouse will do if a divorce is filed may cause a knot in their stomach and homelessness may even be a fear. A vindictive breadwinner, male or female, may threaten to throw his or her spouse out on the street, refuse to pay utilities, or stop paying the mortgage.
Sometimes a breadwinner will move out of the house but continually return to check up on the other spouse, take things that belong to the other spouse, or make the other spouse feel insecure. They may also refuse to pay the mortgage to put pressure on him or her. Under Pennsylvania law, the party living in the home must pay all expenses associated with living there, including the mortgage, insurance, taxes, sewer and utilities, etc. However, this rule of law assumes that the parties are on an equal financial footing.
If you are in a situation like this, you can do something about it! Pennsylvania will award Interim Exclusive Possession of the Marital Residence to a spouse who is at a disadvantage or who cannot move for one reason or another. Once Order has been granted, the other spouse cannot return to the marital home. This possession is temporary, lasting only until the economic
issues have been sorted out, but it can give the disadvantaged or bullied spouse some much needed relief.
If financial pressure is being put on you, several different avenues of relief are open to you. First, there is support. Pennsylvania usually awards short term alimony known as alimony pendente lite. This is support for the duration of the divorce litigation and is the first choice for resolving financial issues. You can get it in addition to child support, but you can get it without child support as well. It is awarded for the sole purpose of keeping the playing field even between the spouses as they divorce.
If the mortgage is too high, the court has the discretion to increase the alimony award by up to fifty percent of the mortgage under the right circumstances, as long as an award of that amount will be less than fifty percent of the paying spouses’ income.
Another more powerful procedure also exists to protect the home if it is in foreclosure. You can petition the court to put a hold on the foreclosure process and to force the other spouse to make whatever payment is necessary to bring the mortgage loan up to date.
Of course, the other party has to be able to pay the deficiency. If there is no money, then the judge cannot order the other party to pay it. However, this motion can also be used to force the other party to cooperate in obtaining a work out plan to save the house if one is available from the mortgage company.
As you can see, Pennsylvania offers many different protections for a spouse who is at a financial disadvantage. Many times, one needs an attorney to handle the many details and to get one through the many procedural issues involved. This in itself can seem like a daunting obstacle if you are without money. However, many attorneys will hold off billing you until alimony pendente lite is awarded by the court. The court may also award attorney’s fees under certain circumstances. If you are struggling, call around to different attorneys until you find one who will work with you. You have more options than you realize.
Brian E. Sipe, Attorney at Law
Licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York