I have been asked this exact question countless times during my career as a New Jersey Divorce Attorney. I shall now share with you how I answer this common yet very important question.
I call it the "Two Phases of Divorce." Now, Phase Two of a divorce is how you are going to co-parent your children, child support and alimony shall be in place (when applicable) and your assets and debts shall be divided consistent with your divorce agreement (or decree).
Phase One of a NJ Divorce case is known in a court room as Pendente Lite which is Latin for "pending the litigation," or more simply put, "while we are getting divorced." The law of Pendente Lite essentially says that the parties must maintain the financial status quo of the marriage until the divorce is over." The first case in New Jersey Divorce history which addressed Pendente Lite goes all the way back to 1856, which first acknowledged that, "the wife has property independent of her husband." Yes, women have come a long way baby!
What do I do if the "breadwinner" of our family stops paying the bills?
In such a situation, my office would immediately file a Notice of Motion for Pendente Lite relief. This means that I shall seek a Court Order that mandates the "breadwinner" to pay all household and other related bills in the same manner they were paid during the marriage. Also, I shall seek support for my client so the he or she may support themselves and the children of the marriage. It is long recognized that New Jersey Divorce courts have the power to prevent "irreparable harm and preserve the status quo" by awarding temporary, Pendente Lite financial support pending a complete examination of the case. As the family's finances shall be investigated by the Court, my client and I shall draft their full financial disclosure, known in a Court House as a Case Information Statement.
You may have noticed that while discussing Pendente Lite I have not mentioned New Jersey child support or alimony. These terms our much more prevalent during Phase Two of your divorce. However, when the Courts and NJ Divorce Attorneys are handling Phase One, as we strive to figure out and reestablish and maintain the "status quo" of the marriage, we focus more on roof expenses as well as other living expenses of the marriage. Typically, the "Breadwinner" pays all of the household bills and then provides the spouse with something called "unallocated" support, which is basically a combination of both alimony and child support. Again, once the Pendente Lite stage is over, child support and alimony (if applicable) is paid but then you bills are yours and their bills are theirs.
Also be mindful that at this early stage of the case the Judge only has a "snapshot" of the marriage. Therefore, once the entire case has been evaluated and all facts have discovered, the Phase One financial arrangement may look significantly different once Phase Two kicks in.
Phase One of a divorce is one of the most challenging events not only for the people getting divorced, but for the attorneys involved as well. Therefore, it is crucial that you have a New Jersey Divorce Lawyer who is an expert in the field. I am proud of my firm's international reputation as skilled attorneys in NJ divorce and family law. If you fear that you may be facing a Pendente Lite situation, I recommend a consultation at my office so we may help prepare you for how you can best protect yourself even before the anticipated problems begin. These include gathering as many financial documents as possible and making sure you have a complete understanding of your family's monthly budget. In addition, myself and my attorneys will help you with sworn statement to the Court and your financial disclosure to the Court in order to maximize our success in protecting you and your children until your divorce has been brought to the final conclusion.