Going through a divorce is a stressful time for most individuals. There are many issues to be settled in the divorce, including custody, support, property division, alimony, and division of debt. While many people are somewhat familiar with Pennsylvania’s equitable distribution statutes of marital property, they may not be aware that these laws also apply to marital debt. You could be saddled with your spouse’s debt after a divorce. Therefore, it is important for you to consult an experienced Pennsylvania divorce lawyer to learn more about the state’s equitable division laws regarding debts in a divorce.
Division of Debt in a Pennsylvania Divorce
Marital debt is any debt incurred by either spouse during the marriage through the date the parties separated. Just as it applies to marital property, the debt does not need to be in the name of both spouse’s to be considered marital debt. Furthermore, you do not have to know about the debt your spouse incurred for the debt to be included in the equitable division of marital debt. Therefore, it is conceivable that you could be ordered to pay your spouse’s debt even though your name is not on the account.
Equitable does not always mean “equal” when dividing property or debt. Each spouse is assigned marital debt in an equitable or “fair” manner. The judge considers numerous factors when determining how to divide the marital debt. Even though all debts incurred during the marriage are marital debt, the judge may consider some factors that might exempt a spouse from being ordered to pay a portion of the debt. For example, if the debts are gambling debts or debts related to an affair, the court may not include those debts in the equitable distribution because of an abuse of trust.
If you are contemplating a separation or divorce, it is prudent to meet with a Pennsylvania family law attorney immediately. There may be some steps you can take before the separation to protect yourself from liability for debts you did not incur. In addition, your attorney can advise you on ways to protect yourself from excessive debt obligations as you move through the divorce proceeding and going forward.
Does My Separation Agreement or Divorce Decree Relieve My Legal Liability for a Debt?
No, orders by the family court do not apply to third-party creditors. Your agreements during your divorce or the findings in the final court order do not absolve you of your legal liability to repay a debt in your name. The court may order your spouse to pay the debt for a joint credit card; however, you are legally liable for the debt if your spouse does not pay the debt. In other words, the credit card company can take legal action against you to collect the debt if it is not paid.
Therefore, your spouse’s actions regarding joint debt could still impact your credit rating and your future. If your spouse refuses to pay debt assigned to your spouse by the court, contact your Pennsylvania family law attorney immediately. You can sue your spouse for the breach of the court order and seek restitution for the money you had to pay to avoid personal collection efforts against you.
If you have questions about the division of marital debt, contact our Pennsylvania divorce lawyers for more information.