Ask a Lawyer: Can I shut off services if she’s running up the bills?

divorce advice for fathersQuestion: My name is on all the bills and I want to shut off electric, phone, cable, computer. She has a job, but I have paid these bills for the two years of our marriage. The problem is that, now that we are getting a divorce, she is running all the bills up by apparently leaving the water running and the lights on. She has also upgraded to the most expensive cable and Internet plan.

All of these bills have at least doubled since three months ago when I was still living in the house and I can prove it. Can I do this without legal backlash?


Answer: I do not know whether you are separated, a divorce is pending, or if you are already divorced.My answer would be different as to each situation.I do not practice in New York, therefore, you should consult a domestic litigation attorney in your jurisdiction prior to taking any action.

Have you contacted the companies to get the accounts transferred into her name? Many companies will allow you to change the names on the accounts. However, you may be responsible for all charges incurred while the account was in your name.At a minimum, you should be able to downgrade the cable and Internet plan back to the previous cost.

Assuming you are still married but have filed for divorce, I would need to know whether there is a temporary order in your case which dictates who is responsible for which bills while the divorce is pending.There may be a provision which requires you to pay these bills and failure to pay could result in the court finding you in contempt of court.

Another consideration is the strategy of your case. You should consult a domestic litigation attorney to ensure that this action will not have an impact on the terms of the divorce. Most Judges would be quite upset to find out that you cut your wife’s electricity off, but they may not be as concerned with shutting off cable if you could not afford to maintain the services. Ultimately, prior to making any decisions, you should contact an attorney and discuss your goals in the divorce and whether or not discontinuing the services will have any impact on your case.



Erica Christian is an Associate Attorney in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin office of Cordell & Cordell, P.C. She is licensed to practice law in the state of Wisconsin. She is a member of the Wisconsin Bar Association, the Family Law Section and the Children’s Law Section.

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One comment on “Ask a Lawyer: Can I shut off services if she’s running up the bills?

    Close the accounts!
    Not legal advice… Just a divorced father with a similar situation. Cable and internet are not minimum reasonable needs and are discretionary. I thought I was doing the right thing by paying these bills during the separation but when the settlement agreement was reached and the date set for her to assume responsibility I didn’t insure the accounts were closed. The result: $700 electricity bill not paid by her, $200 cable bill not paid by her and $100 deposit lost on water service because she transferred the account, along with the deposit, to her name before I could do it. I was able to recover through reductions in spousal support payments but the utility companies reported the accounts to collections and they ended up on my credit report. Get a settlement or order ASAP and set a date notifying her that the accounts will be closed on that date and that she’s responsible from that date on.

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