The average couple considering divorce probably doesn’t agree on what fair terms for that look like. For many couples, property division is the most contentious issue other than child custody in a divorce. Each spouse may have his or her idea about what is fair, and it is common for those disagreements to result in protracted court battles.
One thing that many spouses don’t consider until it’s too late is the impact of debt on the marital estate. The courts will definitely be splitting up everything you own, but they will also be splitting up your debts. Understanding your liability for debts incurred during your marriage is important for planning your financial future.
Marital debt, just like marital assets, are split in a divorce
Unless you have a prenuptial agreement that specifically looks at new debt during your marriage, you should expect the courts to split debts from your marriage. They won’t care very much about whose name is on the credit card account or loan. What will matter is when the account opened.
Debts incurred during your marriage are probably community or marital property, meaning that they are shared between you and your spouse. Credit card debts your spouse acquired, as well as student loans for your spouse’s education could end up being at least partially your responsibility.
Take steps to not only protect your property, but to protect your credit by familiarizing yourself with the household’s current debts, like a mortgage and credit cards.
There are many ways to handle debts in a divorce
While many people imagine that dividing assets and debts in a marriage looks like splitting everything equally down the middle, that isn’t always the case. Although the courts do strive for a fair outcome, that doesn’t always mean an even split to each debt and asset.
Sometimes, the courts will assign more debts and more assets to one individual. The higher level of debt would cancel out the value of the extra assets. Other times, the courts may assign specific debts of comparable value to each spouse without dividing individual accounts. The final decision and outcome will vary substantially from case to case.
Dissipation can impact the division of your debts
It is important to know that in some circumstances you will not be responsible for debts your spouse accrued during marriage. That would include cases of dissipation.
Dissipation involves one spouse intentionally wasting or giving away marital assets as a means of decreasing the marital property value. Dissipation also includes money spent on conducting an affair, such as the cost of hotel rooms and expensive gifts.
If you have documentation that your spouse incurred debt while conducting an affair that ended your marriage, that could help you in the asset division process. It is important to educate yourself about how California courts handle divorce, as well as the current financial situation for your household.