Dear Cassie: I am in the process of going through a divorce. My wife now wants to make a number of repairs to our home (and to have me contribute to these costs). Do I have to pay for these repairs?
Generally speaking, the court will seek to preserve and protect the assets of the parties before their divorce is resolved, so as to avoid a depletion or diminishment of the assets as much as possible pending the outcome of the case. What this means is that, ordinarily, a court will not order the payment of significant deferred maintenance costs during the course of a divorce matter.
That said, if there are repairs and maintenance that cannot be deferred–such as the replacement of a roof that is leaking, or an air conditioner that is broken–a court is likely to order the payment of these costs during the pendency of the case. This is particularly true if the repairs are being recommended by a real estate agent or broker who is listing the home for sale.
Another exception would be if capital improvements or repairs were customary during the marriage. Generally, the court will seek to maintain the financial status quo of the parties. If the parties did typically spend funds on repairs during the marriage, and have the funds to continue to pay for these expenses, there is more of an argument that capital improvements should be made during the course of the divorce case.
Of course, the parties can always agree, by consent, to implement repairs and/or capital improvements to the home during their divorce case, as they see fit.
Another point must be made. You are undoubtedly aware that we are living through an extremely dynamic real estate market at this moment in time. Be aware that the implementation of repairs could impact valuation of the home for purposes of equitable distribution, so this issue should factor into your cost-benefit analysis of whether the repairs make sense to undertake.
If you are dealing with the issue of payment of bills, including capital improvements and repairs, during your divorce case, you should seek the advice of matrimonial counsel.
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Cassie Murphy is a divorce and family law Partner with the Law Offices of Paone, Zaleski & Murphy, with offices in Red Bank and Woodbridge.