Dividing Debt in Divorce

Question Dividing DebtI know that California says that I get half of the property my husband and I have accumulated during our marriage. But what we have is mostly debts. What’s the best way to deal with them?

AnswerUnfortunately, its not unusual for couples these days to have more debts than assets.

The general rule is that debts incurred during the marriage are the obligation of both spouses. To deal with those debts, you can use what joint funds you have to pay off your debts, or you can divide the debts equally with each of you paying off certain of them.

If you have greater earning power than your husband, you may agree to pay off more of the debts in exchange for getting something else, such as equity in the house or your retirement plan.

If your husband agrees to pay some of the debts, be careful. Your agreement is between the two of you, and not your creditors. Creditors can still look to you for repayment of debt even though your husband agreed to pay the bills.

If possible, have him transfer the balances on joint accounts he has agreed to pay to a credit card in his name alone. Close any joint retail charge or credit card accounts, so that you won’t be responsible for your spouse’s future charges. Most creditors will handle your request with no problem, but some may require that you pay off the balance before they will close the account.

If the account remains open, ask that it be frozen, so your spouse can’t continue to charge.


  1. Exactly, just because your ex partner agrees to pay the debts doesn’t mean that he will. Many divorcees have had their credit ruined in this situation. If necessary, get a court order to ensure that they pay their share. Also, remember to stay on top of payments while you are deciding on equitable distribution, just because you don’t know who is responsible for what doesn’t mean that the bills aren’t due.

  2. maria alvarado says:

    iam 53 disabled women married 20years have not worked since we got married I raised his 7 year old son , however hes very controlling with the money & verbally attacts me when I spend any amount of money
    what can I do , I don’t want to leave our apartment he is retired from the military & general motors 30years ea. what can I do he seems so unhappy with me many issues

  3. I am temporarily disabled and facing three more surgeries after just having two since 2010. I also had a WC back injury in 2007, I have been married for five years as of 08-08-08, we have been together 11 years come February. Since my husband got laid off back in 2011 he has not even tried to find work, he drained his UC and we had to move into a mobile home on his Grandmother’s land back in 2009 due to bills and rent piling up. I have had surgery complications since 2011 and I am not able to work, I am pending disability appeal status. His Grandmother pays everything for him but not for me. I get a roof and lights here but that is all. We get foodstamps. He and his Grandmother bought a nice Toyota truck and she pays his payment and insurance. He has no reason to look for work. He and I have been fighting over the fact that he needs to grow up and make good on his marriage vows to honor in sickness and in health but he has no sense of responsibility. He has allowed his Grandmother to ruin our marriage, she is constantly advising him to divorce me because I cannot bring in money, although we are $50,000 in student loan debt because I had to pay all our other expenses before and after moving here. He and I have not been able to even communicate privately, each time we argue he runs over to her and tells her everything and she comes over threatening me. I stay in my bedroom only come out to use bathroom or eat. This has gone on for over a year. I have no money, I had to quit school due to medical issues. I am facing pelvic repair surgery in a couple of weeks and he still refuses to support me and get a job. He started pulling away because we cannot have sex due to my reoccurring vaginal infections, he started pleasing himself and ignoring me completely. I moved out for two months because I found a cheap roommate situation and started getting UC but did not realize it was only for a few weeks then ended. He continually called or came around, I was forced financially to move back in. This was under the promises from him that things would change and he would keep his GMother off my back and get a job. I have been back for several months and he has gotten worse. He gets his Grand mother to come over every time I try to talk to him about anything concerning bills or work. She could see him shoot someone and she would say he did not do it. I feel ganged up on. I have no family except a brother left that I can turn to but he is broke and just starting to get his life back after his breakup. I am stuck in this room, no gas for my car. I cannot leave and its unbearable to stay. Everytime we argue she buys him a present. She screamed at me in the yard that “you and him argue and you cannot work so why don’t you leave him and get a divorce”. I just started counseling because I started having anxiety attacks. I do not know what to do. What are my options, what are my rights to insist that he support me being I supported him for years and saved all proof of my support. Since this is his Grandmother’s mobile home and land until she dies, then it becomes his or would it be ours since she gave it to us during the marriage after we lived here for a few years? Help please. Thank you.

  4. I, personally, have very little debt. I owe less than $9,000 on my car. I’m up to date on everything else. I know this because it took me 11 years to pay off the $60,000 in credit card debt that I ran up, paying for our son’s college. My husband didn’t pay a dime. And when it came time to finance our daughter’s schooling, when I was in credit counseling, he used our second mortgage to pay.

    Now, I’m going to divorce him. Do I have to assume half the second mortgage? That hardly seems fair.

    Thank you.

    • The second mortgage is a debt against the home, so when it is sold the second mortgage will be paid off from the proceeds. If one of you takes the house, you are taking it subject to both the first and second mortgage.

  5. I haven’t filed for divorce yet because I need to be wise about it. We own a house and the market value is less then what it’s owed. I told me that if I want half of the house, what I will be ending up is with an over $30K debt because the house is worth less than the mortgage. Is that true?

  6. Amy Dorer says:

    Do student loans taken out during marriage become both spouses debt during divorce?
    Thank you,

  7. I filed for divorce in feb 2012 he still refuses to sign the papers even though we have been separated since 2011 we have 2 children that we share custody of 50/50. He took everything he wanted when we first separated and has been living with his mother since who pays for everything for him. What can i do to get my divorce. Please help.

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