Debts in a Divorce

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How will our debts be divided?

If the debt is in both of your names, it belongs to both of you. If a debt is only in one of your names, it is still a marital debt that both of you are responsible for if:

  • The debt started during your marriage, and
  • The debt was for a marital purpose. (A debt that is not for a marital purpose benefits only one spouse. You may have to prove this in court.)

Debts in one spouse's name alone that were taken on before the marriage belong only to the debt holder.

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What about debts after separation but before the divorce is final?

Debts after the established date of separation usually belong to the person who took them on. But if the debts are for necessary expenses, such as health care or food for the children, and the spouse who took on the debt cannot pay it, the other spouse might be responsible, if he or she can pay.

If you are worried about your spouse's debts, it's best to file for divorce and get an agreement on debt division as soon as possible (even if you have not agreed on other divorce issues, like support or custody). You can ask the court to say you will be held harmless from that debt and any creditor action.

If there are debts that must be paid during the divorce, you can ask the court to make an order saying who will be responsible for that debt until the divorce is final.

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Can a creditor come after me for my spouse's debts?

Yes, if...   You and your spouse both signed for the debt, even if it was for something that only one of you used, like a car. In that case it is a joint debt, not just your spouse's.
No, if...   Only your spouse signed for the debt. That debt is a contract between the spouse that took it on and the creditor. But the creditor may still try to collect the debt from you. If this happens, it's best to talk to a lawyer.

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What if my spouse agreed to pay a debt as a part of our divorce, but does not pay it?

If both of you signed for the debt, even if your divorce order said your spouse would pay for it, the creditor can still hold you responsible for the debt. You can try showing the creditor your divorce order, but they probably will not back off.

If you did not sign on the debt, tell the creditor that the debt is a contract with your ex, not you.

If the creditor sues you, you can ask the Court to make your ex part of the lawsuit. You can also go back to divorce court and ask the court to hold your ex in contempt, and order your ex to reimburse you. A lawyer can help you with this.

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Can a court change orders about property or debt after the divorce is final?

Only in certain situations, such as:

  • The court made a mistake or error in the facts of your case,
  • There is new evidence that was discovered after the case was finalized, or
  • Someone lied at court, but you did not find out until after the hearing.

It is very unusual for a court to change a property or debt order after the divorce is final. See a lawyer immediately if you think there was a mistake in your order or other situation that would allow the court to change the order.

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Reviewed August 2009