Stephen J. Buhler, Attorney at Law

How does the court divide marital debt after a divorce?

When Salt Lake City residents face a difficult decision, they often use a certain set of principles to decide the decision, no matter what the particular issue at stake may be. This is true in the legal system as well, as courts often consider the same factors in reaching a decision.

For instance, last week, this blog discussed some important aspects of property division in a divorce. Just as marital property is divided equitably between the spouses, so too will marital debts be divided in an equitable manner.

Parties remain free to divide the debt as they choose in a divorce agreement. The court will typically follow the parties' agreement as to the division of debt and property.

If the parties cannot reach an agreement, however, the court then must divide the debt fairly between the parties. This does not mean the debt will be divided equally, however, as the court may decide to apportion more debt toward one individual than another.

For example, the debt that is associated with property, such as a car loan that is attached to a car, will typically follow the person who is awarded that piece of property. This is not possible with other kinds of debt, such as joint debts that were incurred for the benefit of both spouses. Accordingly, the court will examine the facts and circumstances of each case to divide this debt as fairly as possible.

As with the division of property, the court's order dividing debt remains binding on the parties. Aside from ensuring the debt is fairly divided, individuals should also be sure the debt is taken care of after the divorce, so that creditors do not come after one person who is no longer legally obligated to pay off that debt.

Source: Utah Courts, "Debt division," accessed on Nov. 28, 2015

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