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It’s Critical to Understand How Debt is Divided in Divorce

posted by Bedrock Divorce Advisors 10:00 AM
Wednesday, April 27, 2011

All joint debt acquired during the marriage will almost always be considered a joint obligation of both spouses. All debt that has both the husband and wife listed as co-signers such as car loans, mortgages, and credit card debt will also be the joint responsibility of both parties. However, if your husband has debt solely in his name, in most cases, your husband will be solely responsible for it and not you.

An exception to this is in Community Property states where both parties are typically responsible for any debt acquired during the marriage, even if that debt was incurred by just one of them. States with community property laws are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. Alaska is an “opt-in” community property state, which means that both spouses must agree to be jointly responsible for all debt.

Once you are separated, any new debt incurred will be the sole responsibility of the person who incurred that debt. You need to keep careful records of your credit card charges after you are separated so that you can prove which are yours and which belongs to your husband. It is important to note that separation is not legally recognized in every state and those that do recognize it have their own guidelines for defining the date of separation, so please consult with your divorce attorney.

Joint debt, just like marital property should be negotiated and divided during the divorce process. Typically, the debt should follow the asset that is associated with that debt. So the car loan should become the responsibility of whomever gets the car and the credit card charge for the wide-screen television should become the responsibility of the person getting the TV, and so on.

It is important to remember that even though your divorce settlement agreement identifies who is responsible for each debt, your creditors don’t care about your divorce settlement agreement and will consider each spouse to be 100% responsible for any joint debt. So if your husband declares bankruptcy or defaults on any joint debt, those creditors will come after you for full payment, regardless of what your divorce agreement states.

To avoid this possible scenario, you may want to consider requiring that all debts be paid off prior to finalizing the divorce if there are sufficient assets to do so. To the extent possible, all loans, credit cards and other debts that were established jointly with your husband should be frozen and/or closed as soon as you know you are heading for divorce.

If you have debts that need to be addressed in any divorce settlement agreement, I highly recommend that you work with one of our Divorce Financial Strategists™ to help you resolve those issues and to protect your current and future credit rating.

All content on this site/blog is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice. 
If you require legal advice, retain a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are solely those
of the author, who is not an attorney.
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