Reimbursement Claims in Divorce
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A lot of people coming into a divorce assume that they will get credit for money they spent during the marriage, including paying down the mortgage, helping the other spouse with student loans, and paying expenses for a step-child. The rules for reimbursement are very specific, and many of those items are not reimbursable at all, or would be reimbursed at an amount different from what was originally spent.
To give some common examples:
- Husband and Wife life in a house that Wife owned prior to the marriage. Husband uses his income (community property) to pay down the mortgage. Husband does have a claim for reimbursement, but not in the amount he paid. The reimbursement would be for the amount that the principal of the mortgage was reduced, not for the interest or finance charges. Also, Wife might get an offset to reduce the amount of the reimbursement, because Husband was living in the house while he was making those payments.
- Husband and Wife buy a house together, and Wife uses her separate property savings account to make payments on the mortgage. Again, Wife does have a reimbursement claim, only in the amount the principal was reduced. Also, since the house is community property, Wife will probably only get a reimbursement of one-half of that amount, again possibly offset by her use of the house while she was making payments.
Another common question is whether a spouse can be compensated for money spent on the other spouse's children. You cannot get a reimbursement for payment of child support, alimony, or spousal maintenance, or for paying living expenses of your spouse or your spouse's child. These are considered gifts to the community "for the benefit of the well-being and use of the community estate" (Graham v. Graham). A person can also not get reimbursement for payments to a student loan owed by a spouse.
Finally, the person making the claim for reimbursement has the burden of proof and has to prove where the funds came from and what they were spent on, and whether they were separate or community property. This can be a challenge when you are looking at a marriage of many years and transactions that took place a long time ago.
Reimbursement claims can be well worth pursuing, and a person going through a divorce should definitely speak to his or her attorney regarding the possibility of a reimbursement. Just understand that it's a complication question, and you may not be entitled to as much as you think.