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Debt Division

Dividing Debt In Divorce: Navigating Financial Complexity

Divorce, even under the best circumstances, is never simple. When significant assets are in the mix, it becomes an even more complex journey. In this article, we’ll simplify the intricate world of high-net-worth divorces, breaking down key elements for your understanding. From expert guidance and tax considerations to child support complexities and property division intricacies, we aim to provide clarity in a challenging process.

The Landscape Of Debt Division

Equitable Division vs. Community Property

The United States is a patchwork of different divorce laws, and understanding your state’s approach is paramount. In the majority of states (41 to be precise), the principle of equitable division prevails. This means that courts consider the financial situation of each spouse when dividing debt incurred during the marriage. Debt accumulated separately is typically the responsibility of the spouse who incurred it. Equality in debt division isn’t the primary goal; fairness and the ability to pay are prioritized. For instance, a higher-earning spouse or one who receives more property might be assigned a larger share of the debt.

In contrast, nine states follow the community property doctrine (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin) where debt incurred during the marriage is generally divided equally. However, this straightforward 50-50 split can become more nuanced due to specific state laws or restrictions. Moreover, courts may view assets and debts as overall “values,” allowing some flexibility in the distribution.

debt division in divorce statistic
debt division in divorce statistic

Types Of Debt & Their Division

1. Credit Card Debt

Debt In One Spouse’s Name Only

In most states, if the credit card debt is in one spouse’s name, that spouse is solely responsible. In community property states, if the debt originated during the marriage, it’s often divided 50-50.

Joint Credit Card Debt

For joint credit card debt, most states require both parties to share responsibility, regardless of individual usage or payments. However, a judge may adjust the allocation based on financial circumstances.

Cosigned Credit Card Accounts

Cosigning on a credit card makes both parties liable, with division influenced by state laws. Removing oneself as a cosigner may require the lender’s approval.

2. Mortgage Debt

House Ownership

When a house is in one person’s name, courts consider various factors to determine mortgage responsibility. Community property states may view the house as marital property.

Mortgage Loan vs. Title

Mortgage loan responsibility and property ownership (title) are distinct. Removing a name from the mortgage doesn’t guarantee removal from the title, and vice versa.

Selling The House

Selling the house and dividing the proceeds often provides a clean financial break, even if it’s challenging due to children’s needs.


If one spouse wants to keep the house, a buyout involving equity and mortgage takeover is common.

3. Auto Loan Debt

Auto loans in both names can create complications in divorce, as non-payment can impact both parties’ credit.

Options For Managing Auto Loan Debt

Refinance, automatic payments, paying off the balance, or selling the car are potential solutions.

4. Medical Debt

In many states, the court assesses whether the couple lived together or legally separated at the time of incurring medical debt, with distinctions made between essential medical procedures and elective ones, all contingent on the specifics of the divorce case; community property states typically divide medical debt acquired during the marriage evenly at 50-50.

5. Liability For Debt Incurred During Separation

Liability for debt during separation varies by state, with some recognizing it as marital debt shared by both spouses and others treating it as the responsibility of the spouse who incurred it. It’s essential to understand the specific laws in your state and seek legal advice when needed.

Bankruptcy & Other Considerations

Bankruptcy By An Ex-Spouse

When an ex-spouse files for bankruptcy, it can significantly affect the shared debt that was once part of the divorce settlement. In this scenario, the non-filing party could find themselves saddled with the entire debt, which was originally intended to be divided between both parties. This unexpected financial burden can have serious consequences, particularly on the non-filing party’s credit score and financial stability. To safeguard their financial well-being, it’s imperative for the non-filing party to stay vigilant by consistently monitoring their credit reports. By doing so, they can promptly detect any discrepancies or inaccuracies stemming from the bankruptcy and take appropriate steps to rectify the situation, protecting their financial standing in the process.

Child Support & Alimony In Bankruptcy

It’s important to note that when an individual declares bankruptcy, it doesn’t absolve them of their legal obligations regarding court-ordered child support and alimony payments. These financial responsibilities, often outlined in the divorce decree, remain intact and are considered non-dischargeable debts in bankruptcy proceedings. In other words, even if a person successfully discharges many of their debts through bankruptcy, their obligations to provide financial support for their children and former spouse persist. Courts prioritize the well-being and financial security of dependent family members, and as such, these obligations are typically immune to the debt relief measures offered by bankruptcy. Failure to meet these obligations can result in legal consequences and further financial complications.

What To Do If Your Ex Doesn’t Pay Divorce Debt

When faced with the scenario where your ex-spouse doesn’t meet their obligations to pay the joint debts as ordered by the court, it’s essential to take proactive steps to protect your credit and financial well-being. One option to consider is taking on the responsibility of paying off the debt yourself, even if it wasn’t initially your obligation. By doing so, you prevent late payments or defaults from adversely affecting your credit score, which can have lasting repercussions on your financial future. Additionally, it’s crucial to maintain thorough records of these payments and any related communication with your ex-spouse. These records can serve as valuable evidence in case you seek reimbursement for the payments you made on their behalf through legal channels or during the divorce settlement negotiations.

Preparing For Divorce Debt Division

As you prepare for the division of debt during divorce, it’s crucial to adopt a strategic approach to minimize financial complications. Ideally, you should aim to pay off joint debts before the divorce is finalized. This proactive step not only simplifies the process but also ensures a clean financial slate for both parties. However, we understand that this may not always be feasible. In such cases, it’s essential to collaborate with your spouse to determine how responsibilities for these debts will be allocated post-divorce. This may involve establishing a clear plan for who will be responsible for each debt and how it will be managed moving forward.

Additionally, if your financial situation is particularly complex or contentious, seeking professional guidance is highly recommended. Consultation with a financial expert or a family lawyer who specializes in divorce proceedings can provide invaluable expertise and tailored advice to navigate the intricacies of debt division effectively, ensuring a fair and secure financial future for both parties involved.


Dividing debt during divorce is a critical yet often complex aspect of the process. Understanding your state’s laws, the types of debt involved, and your available options can help you navigate this financial challenge. By taking proactive steps and seeking professional advice when needed, you can protect your financial well-being and start anew after divorce. Remember, maintaining a civil relationship with your ex can make the process smoother and less financially damaging in the long run.

Modern Family Law

Modern Family Law’s team of experienced divorce lawyers takes a compassionate approach to the practice of family law. Our experienced team of attorneys is prepared to consult with you regarding any questions related to family law matters. Using innovative technology to create an effective and efficient process for our clientele, our attorneys approach each case as a collective effort to find the best long-term solutions for each family. We understand the financial burden a divorce can have on an individual. As such we have created our industry-first SimpleStart™ program, providing people a chance to reduce the amount of money needed upfront to start their case. For more information please give us a call or fill out a short form online to sign up for a free consultation today! Let us make a positive difference in your life.

By: MFL Team

Posted September 20, 2023

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