Stephen J. Buhler, Attorney at Law

Family law and dividing marital debts after a divorce

When a Utah couple chooses to end a marriage, there are multiple legal issues that will come to the forefront. One that often recedes into the background but is important in its own right is how debts that were accrued during the marriage will be divided. Even if the other spouse purchased the property, both parties might be viewed as responsible. Not understanding the intricacies of this aspect of the situation can lead to problems. This is true whether it is a high asset divorce or not and whether there is a dispute over property division or not.

With debts, the participants are generally required to divide those they owe. If there is an agreement between the parties, then the court will have that included in the decree. If, however, they are not able to come to an agreement on how the debts are to be divided, the court will take steps to do this. If there is a mortgage or a car loan, whoever retains the property will be required to pay the debt.

Both spouses are considered to have an equal responsibility for any joint debt that was accrued during the marriage and it was purchased for the family. This is deemed to be anything that benefited the entire family as opposed to one of the spouses. The spouse who did not agree to pay a debt for the other spouse is not usually responsible for it.

Apart for medical costs for minor children, the decision made by the court will be binding. Parties must remember that creditors are under no obligation to honor joint debts that the court divided and pursue the spouse who bought it for payment. Because of that, if a spouse had a debt that he or she was supposed to pay and did not, the creditor can pursue the other spouse for payment. In turn, that spouse will have to try and get the money from the spouse who has accumulated the debt. If there is a creditor who is seeking payment for medical expenses for a minor child, that creditor must honor an order for division of debt.

At the end of a marriage, there are many family law issues that have to be taken into account. Division of debts should not be treated as a secondary issue. To make certain that this is dealt with appropriately and effectively, it is wise to discuss the matter with an attorney who is experienced in this area of law.

Source:, "Debt Division -- Division of marital debts," accessed on Jan. 30, 2017

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