How to Manage Household Expenses Post-Divorce

Here's how to divide your household expenses with a co-parent fairly and easily.
Diana Spasic
September 13, 2021
Start managing shared expenses with your co-parent easily!

etting separated changes many things. I dare say it changes nearly everything. And believe it or not, sometimes the changes are for the better. Differences will quickly be apparent in everything, from your everyday routine to the ways you allocate your money, time, and energy. Shared parenting may feel awkward in the beginning. And with shared parenting come shared expenses. There are now two households instead of one, and the living costs may seem to double. Keeping track of them seems daunting. Nonetheless, you have to face this challenge head on. If you don’t get all of your records straight from the start, expenses may indeed get significantly larger and more challenging to manage.

It’s hard to grasp all the changes after separation, and feeling out-of-your-depth and overwhelmed is perfectly normal. Despite the unease you’re feeling, it’s essential to address household expenses as soon as possible. Be patient but firm. Give yourself some space to adjust to your brand new life and take one step at a time but make sure you’re taking steps. And make the division and management of shared expenses one of the first steps you take.

While it’s impossible to predict every possible expense that may occur, there’s a lot you can prepare for. Let’s dive in.

Add Household Expenses to the Divorce Agreement

Household expenses: couple signing documents

In an ideal scenario, you’ll have discussed the division of monthly expenses with your co-parent before the separation so both of you know what to expect. Including household and parenting expenses in the divorce agreement helps you both. Having all the expenses laid out will be easier to plan and allocate your monthly budget if you have the basics on paper when expenses start popping up.

It’s wise to think about all the kid-related monthly expenses you had before the divorce and include them all in your agreement:

  • School tuition
  • Transportation costs
  • Lunches
  • Your kid’s cell phone
  • Medical bills
  • Health insurance
  • Books
  • Clothing
  • Shoes
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Toys
  • Vacation
  • Mortgage or rent

The essential needs of food, clothing, and shelter will likely be included in child support payments as determined by the court or mediator. But for everything else, think through what will happen when an expense arises. You may think you’ll figure it out as you go, but having a plan in place will help avoid confusion or misunderstandings.

Here are several examples of things divorcing parents should prepare for:

  • If your child wants some new clothes beyond what they need, who are they going to ask for new items?
  • How do you plan to communicate the regular needs for books or school supplies?
  • Will medical and other health care bills be sent directly to the parent responsible for them?

While these may seem easy to manage down the road, spelling out solutions for specific situations in your agreement will help both of you feel safer and more secure with your budgeting — even during emergencies.

In my divorce, our counselor advised us to take as much time as we needed to determine who covers which expense, how much of each expense we expect to cover, and what we plan on doing in emergencies (which we all know happen more often than we think). We agreed to start an emergency fund to which each of us would contribute every month. That might work well for you and your ex.

Distinguish Direct and Indirect Expenses

Once you list and categorize your household expenses, you may need to allocate them into direct and indirect expenses to make things even easier for the future.

Direct expenses are related to a particular person. Examples of direct expenses include alimony, college tuition, medical expenses, public transportation for your child, child care, and extracurricular activities.

Expenses related directly to your child, their education, and their well-being should always be shared. The best way to share them is in proportion to your and your ex’s income, especially if one of you earns significantly more than the other.

Indirect expenses are living expenses related to the home. These housing costs may include mortgage payments, down payments, property taxes, auto insurance, car payments, homeowners insurance, renters insurance, utility bills, and monthly bills for any extra services your household uses.

Splitting these expenses depends on several factors, including whether you own or rent, whether you both own the home or just one person does, who is staying in the house, if you can refinance your mortgage, whose name your credit cards and other accounts are under, and so forth. There’s often a hefty sum of money and collateral involved in vehicles, insurance, and property. A judge can help determine how to handle these expenses since laws vary from state to state.

Plan for Extra Costs of a Separate Household

Blue-themed kids' bedroom

You may have had the income and lifestyle of an average household while you were married, but it’s essential to prepare your post-divorce household budget for extra costs. This is especially true for shared parenting situations where the children live in two households. Since kids will be splitting their time between two homes, they need their necessary items in both.

The new expenses can include anything your child needs on a day-to-day basis, such as a new bed, desk, and chairs. Moreover, you want your kid to feel at home in both households, which means they need new toys and other sources of comfort, depending on your child’s age and needs.

If you decide to let the court divide the expenses, it will be distributed in line with each parent’s income. Generally, following the court’s lead is a good way of developing a functional system for covering the extra costs. However, you don’t need to be strict to make things work. The most reasonable approach is to cover most expenses related to something that may not be necessary, but you strongly feel your children should have.

For example, if you want to buy them something expensive your ex may not agree on, do it at your own cost. If your ex-partner wants to sign them up for horse riding lessons, they should cover it. But if your child needs a new bed, it would be best to split the cost. It doesn’t matter that it’s in your ex’s house and not yours. It’s still your child that needs a comfy bed when they stay over.

Communicate and Track Payments With Your Ex

Once you determine all the necessities that need to be covered, take time to figure out how you and your ex will communicate about the expenses as they pop up in the future. The Onward app was a game-changer for us since our communication was already not at its best (to say the least), and we knew money talks — especially unexpected money talk — would’ve made things worse.

The app helps us manage all the requests and payments without having to even talk to each other. We can also send a proposal for a future household expense so we can both budget for it. If you want to give a reminder for a specific request you already sent, you can send an automated reminder through the app. It also allows both of you to easily review all past and upcoming expenses. No unnecessary phone calls, no potential misunderstandings, and no unpleasant feelings of hunting down your ex to pay you back for something.

Onward handles all expense-related communication between you and your ex so you don’t have to. You can get it on Google Play and the App Store.

Handling logistics and expenses for two households is certainly challenging. Cutting down on in-person communication and reducing confusion in little ways like this can help foster a healthier relationship moving forward.

Planning Ahead Is Key

Children tend to be expensive at all ages and stages, and separation may add significant stress to the parents’ financial situation. However, planning ahead of time can create a sigh of relief when it comes to finances, and saves both parents a lot of unpleasant situations.

It may come off as a lot to handle. But once you reassess your finances and agree on important shared costs, it will be easier for both of you to go on with your lives and pursue separate financial goals. Have the talk, include every household expense you can think of, and use smart tools to implement your plan. A good strategy for sharing household expenses will make your entire life more manageable. Although it takes some time, patience, and effort from both sides, reaching a solution that works for everyone doesn’t have to be too complicated.

Start managing shared expenses with your co-parent easily!

Diana Spasic

Diana is a writer who specializes in blogging. She's on a mission to inform and uplift people in complex and confusing life situations she's been through herself. When not working, you'll find her at the seaside or in the mountains.