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.

26 thoughts on “Dividing Debt in Divorce”

  1. Pingback: Doctors, You Have a Lower Risk of Getting Divorced … Unless You’re a Woman - Second Saturday Divorce Workshop, Louisville, KY

  2. I am leaving my husband, but not before I am sure I can be financially stable on my own. We both work full time and have completely separate finances for the last 6 years. We have equal amounts of student loan debt, fairly equal credit card debt, and we both have auto loans in our own names. NOTHING is joint. My biggest issue with him is his financial irresponsibility. We have been married for 12 years and other than 4 beautiful children we have nothing to show for all of our hard work. He gives lots of “carrots” things like, let’s go on vacation, or let’s buy a house next summer, or I want to get a boat for the summer; etc. etc. I make a budget, we discuss savings plans, and then nothing comes of it. Our pathetic cycle has been use our tax refund to pay off debt and then some point any savings I manage to scrape together gets spent on family emergencies, car issues, doctor bills and the debt returns and starts accumulating again. He never helps with these essential funds but has enough money to buy a new car part, sports jersey, or take a long motorcycle trip with his dad. I am not saying I am a financial wizard or anything but I know that if I showed you a statement of my credit cards it is all medical, auto, or utility not personal spending and my bank statements are my monthly bills with little to know deviation. I have 16 bills in my monthly budget and less than 20 transactions per month on my account. If I have to use my card it is because my paycheck is only enough to cover my half of the household bills and my personal minimum payments on loans. I have worked very, very hard to make sure the household bills are split 50/50 even though he makes twice as much as I do.

    I admit I have enabled his behavior by taking on the extra bills even if I don’t have the money, braces, daycare, taekwondo, and vet/doctor bills. I have even had to pay HIS phone and auto insurance and spot him rent on multiple occasions because he is a reckless spender.

    Well after 12 years of renting, never having a honeymoon let alone a family vacation, and having underwear older than my kids because my me money is spent on brakes or braces, I am done.

    I want to have the life I promised myself growing up. I want to send my kids to summer camp. I NEED a home of my own to take pride in. It is all materialistic and superficial, sure, but I am so tired of being house poor and working 2 jobs all the time. Did I mention he never offers to work more to help pay down debt? I have worked 10 of our 12 years with 2 jobs or in school with a FT job. Sorry, about the long rant but it feels so good to get it on “paper”.

    All of that to ask this question. I have, AGAIN, picked up a second job to alleviate the debt burden. However, I am not going to put a single dime into his debt until mine is paid off and I have a rainy day fund established. So, when I have paid off all credit cards, doctor bills, and my small university loan in approximately 6-8 months, for a total of $6500 in debt, will I have shot myself in the foot?

    As I see it there are several outcomes.
    1. the second job increases my income and skews the child support —– bad option.
    2. I am now relatively debt free and the judge still tells me I am responsible for 1/2 of HIS debt —– also bad.
    3. The judge sees me as determined and responsibly minded and tells him to suck-it-up and pay off his own debt. —– good
    4. I sock away the money and still carry the debt but have a cash reserve —— sneeky, dishonest, —–bad

    I know every state does everything different and I am not asking for legal advice just personal experience. Should I pay off my debt or save it? How likely is a judge to saddle me with more debt after working so hard to clear mine?

    Thank you for your time and patience, and being a place for us to voice our frustrations and concerns.
    – K

    1. In many states debt incurred by either party during the marriage is marital debt that belongs to both of you. I have no way of knowing if this is the case in your state. Please seek legal advice to find out your best options.

  3. Pingback: Doctors, You Have a Lower Risk of Getting Divorced … Unless You’re a Woman - Divorce Workshop Denver

  4. I can’t find the answer to this question anywhere. If there is money borrowed against a 401K by the husband $45,000 (and he has an additional $56,000 still in the account) is there any way to force a payoff of the debt with the remaining money? Can the wife pay off her portion and pay the penalties and taxes from her half? Would that be included in a QDRO? His employer says he can’t pay it off early–it won’t mature until 2033. Neither party has a significant amount of money and would just like to start over without this debt. Thank you.

  5. My ex and I are still married and we legally separated a few years ago with a separation agreement. he already breached the agrement once but I could not take him to court as I was unemployed.
    We had a property abroad and we sold it we just had 20000$ (that I received) each, the issue is that my ex is threatening to sue me and is telling me that I stole his money. In 2014 I wanted to sell the property but he disagreed and then we went into debt…I could not pay as I am barely making it for me and my 2 kids, and my ex makes over 10800$ monthly, so he paid over 35000$ for our property in 2014-2015 (I think he completely mismanaged it) he had complete control of the management and bank accounts etc…. He tells me that he wants my half (the agreement stated that I owe 50% of debts)… I have put those 20000$ on college funds for my 2 kids ( my friend in the legal field advised me to do so). My ex also told me that we had savings account but those were liquidated few years ago and put in your joint account (i had no ideas about it).
    My husband tells me that I am doing some ” criminal activity” since I put his money in a college funds for our 2 girls. I have 2 part time jobs and am struggling to make it….What should I do?

  6. My Husband, back in 2007, One day came home from work, packed his stuff and moved out of our house in Waterbury, CT. Left me a phone message….”I do not want to speak with you, talk to my mother” Spoke to his mother, she said..If I went to a lawyer he would be committing suicide…..What!!!

    My husband was the money maker of the household, no children, I had a part time job….could not continue paying the bills,mortgage etc….At this time I pursued a lawyer, declared bankruptcy….

    I left the state of CT. now live in MA….I need to move on with my life…..get the divorce!

    I need to know, Am I entitled to any Alimony, retirement benefits? Do I have to travel to the state of CT to get a divorce attorney,?,,,Is it a “Quartro” divorce I am seeking? Thank-you!

    1. I’m sorry, but we aren’t attorneys and aren’t familiar with the laws of your state. If you have been a resident of MA for at least six months, you can probably file for divorce in MA. As for a “Quarto” divorce, I’m not familiar with that term. It may be something specific to your state.

  7. She emptied my bank account, took 2 cars, everything in the house that had any value and I have not once been late or behind on child support in 5 years. The judge ordered me to pay her lawyer fees and 6 months of alimony. I guess her lawyer forgot to file some paper, so my lawyer doesn’t think she’ll be getting anymore alimony, but this debt. I have no clue where it could’ve even come from. We didnt own a home. Won’t the stuff she took play into account? She took everything!

  8. My ex-wife cheated on my for 2 years behind my back. We were married for 7 years with 3 children. The first child isn’t biologically mine but as a man, I stepped up to the plate to raise him as my own. I am a truck driver and was gone from weeks at a time. One night we got into an argument, I’m guessing thats the normal thing that happens when you suspect your wife is having an affair. Of course she denied it and said she was leaving. When I finally get home, our home was completely ramsacked. She took everything I owned, plus both cars. She went to a domestic violence shelter claiming I was coming home to kill her and the children. Not true.. I couldn’t find my kids or understand why this was happening until I research and find out she was having an affair with my best friend and she was searching how to get immediate custody of children during divorce. Well, that explained why I couldn’t find my kids. My ex-wife has alienated me from my children. We have signed the divorce papers, 4 years later. She told so many lies that have led myself, my family, my lawyer and the guardian adlitem to believe she has serious mental health problems. I have spent so much money on this and now we are finally going to either go to court to settle the debt or the judge is saying it would be best to settle out of court to avoid the added costs. I know my ex-wife, and I know that she is going to take me down to my socks. When she left me with a turned up down home with nothing, I continued to pay for the Tahoe she took, and estimated my own child support which was more than the judge ordered. I did what I needed to do as a man. She cheated on me, she left me, she has lied lied lied. I just want to be done. Before she left, my kids loved me, now somehow, they don’t want me. I have been dealing with depression and anxiety from this. I was told to get a second lawyer but I can’t afford it. Even the counselor thinks the woman is crazy. I took care of her, she didn’t have to work and completed 3 out of the 4 years for her bachelors in teaching. All of a sudden now, she is claiming she is in debt. First it was 100,000. now its 25,000.00 in debt she is wanting me to take responsibility for. I gave her access to my debit card. She did what she wanted. I have no credit debt. I never anticipated a divorce so my mind never thought maliciously. I’m just lost at this point. Please, any adivse

  9. 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.

  10. 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?

  11. 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.

    1. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. maria alvarado

    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

  14. 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.

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