Division of debt in divorces is all part of a division of assets. Throughout a marriage, many couples acquire so many possessions, many of which have significant emotional value, and spouses wish to ensure that they retain the items dearest to them. Unfortunately, marital debt is also marital property and must be equitably divided during the divorce process. Particularly since the economic downturn in 2008, more and more divorcing spouses have to deal with extensive debt issues.
Divorcing spouses have two different options when dealing with debt during a divorce: pay off all of their debt prior to filing for divorce or dividing the debt. In most cases, divorcing spouses are not able to pay off all of their debt prior to divorcing, or they likely would have already paid it off. As a result, most divorcing spouses must determine the best and most appropriate way to divide the marital debt.
A divorce court will typically look at who incurred the debt and who benefited from the debt, to help determine who should be responsible for paying off the debt. For example, if one spouse purchases an expensive set of golf clubs with a credit card and uses those golf clubs every weekend to play golf, then it makes sense for that spouse to be responsible for paying that debt. As a general rule, only marital debt, acquired during the marriage rather than before the marriage began, will be divided by the court. Additionally, since California is a community property state, spouses are equally responsible for debt acquired during the marriage, no matter whose name the debt is in.
In almost every case, it is recommended that you request a credit report before you file for divorce or, at the very least, immediately after filing your divorce papers. The credit report can provide you with a great deal of information about your debts, including the status of your accounts, when they were opened, when they were closed (if applicable), and who is responsible for the debt. Your credit report could also remind you about old accounts that were never properly closed, which may be very important during the divorce proceedings if they are joint accounts.
Depending upon the circumstances, bankruptcy may need to be considered to deal with mounting debt issues. Depending upon the circumstances, one spouse may file on his or her own, or the couple may file jointly prior to finalizing the divorce. If most or all of the debt is in one spouse’s name, then it may be best for that spouse to individually file for bankruptcy. A couple may only file jointly for bankruptcy if they are still married, so once the divorce becomes finalized, a joint filing is not permitted. However, even if a couple is still married, a joint bankruptcy may not be possible due to conflicts of interests if they have already filed for divorce. It is important to remember that a bankruptcy will not discharge child support or spousal support obligations. In addition, Chapter 7 bankruptcies do not discharge any court-ordered obligations, but a Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing may still discharge such obligations.