Can I Charge My Spouse Rent During a Divorce

Entering into the divorce process in California means a lot of different things for the relationship between the soon-to-be ex-spouses. Not only are you presumably ending your romantic relationship, but your emotional relationship and financial relationship to one another will change once you divorce. But there is usually a grey area during the separation phase, which is the time between the date of separation (when at least one of the partners indicates he or she wants a divorce) and the date the court issues the final divorce order, which will take at least six months and often longer. One of the more trickier situations during that time is the living arrangements of the separated spouses. There is no requirement in California that divorcing spouses have to live separately during the separation period (at least not as of January 1, 2017), but it is quite common for them to do so, with the situation being that one spouse lives in the “marital home” owned by the spouses while the other spouse finds a place to live elsewhere. Which brings up the question of whether the other spouse has a right to any rents from the spouse still living in the marital home during the separation.

“Watts Charges” and Rent

California Family Code Section 2626 states that, “The court has jurisdiction to order reimbursement in cases it deems appropriate for debts paid after separation but before trial.” In the 1985 California appellate case entitled In re Marriage of Watts, the court ruled that, based on this section, a wife could force a husband still living in the shared marital residence during the period of separation to “to reimburse the community for the value of (his) exclusive use of the family residence...between the date of separation and the date of trial.”

While the court did not use the term “rent” in its decision, paying rent is an apt way to describe the situation. To “reimburse the community” means that one spouse will have to transfer funds and/or property to the marital community, with the result that any transferred funds would be subject to a 50/50 split between the spouses. Thus, if a court determined that $3,000 a month was a fair rental price for a house during the divorce, and the relevant period was 12 months, then the spouse residing in the house would have to pay a total of $36,000 to the community, which would then be split between the spouses with $18,000 going to each (as opposed to a situation in which one spouse enjoys the shared marital house rent-free while the other is forced to pay his or her own rent).

Such payments have come to be known as “Watts Charges” and are applicable to not just rent but also vehicles or other property that provides an ongoing benefit to one spouse.

Get Answers to Your Legal Questions on California Divorces

To schedule a consultation to discuss any issues related to spousal support in a California divorce or any other questions or concerns you have about the California divorce process, contact one of the family law attorneys at Kearney Baker today.