In the process of divorce, dividing both property and debt is a crucial aspect that can have a significant impact on your future financial well-being. While many people primarily focus on dividing assets, such as real estate and investments, the division of debt can be just as important, if not more so. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the key factors involved in dividing debt during divorce and provide you with the information you need to navigate this complex aspect of the process.
The Significance of Dividing Debt in Divorce
During a divorce, debt division is often a major concern for both parties involved. It’s essential to understand that the financial stress caused by debt can exacerbate the challenges already present in the divorce process. According to a study by credit reporting agency Experian, married couples tend to have higher credit scores and more debt than single individuals. This means that divorcing couples may have a substantial amount of debt to address as they navigate the separation process.
Understanding Debt Classification
To effectively divide debt during divorce, it’s crucial to understand how debts are classified. Florida is an “equitable distribution” state. This means that the debt either spouse incurs during the marriage is typically considered a “marital” debt subject to equitable distribution by the Court. This means that both spouses are typically responsible for these debts, regardless of whether the debt is in one spouse’s name or both. Florida Statute §61.075 governs the equitable distribution of marital assets and liabilities in Florida. It provides that when dividing marital assets and liabilities, “the court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution.”
On the other hand, debts incurred prior to the marriage or after the date of separation are generally considered “separate” debt. These debts are not subject to division during divorce and remain the sole responsibility of the spouse who incurred them.
It’s important to note that there are exceptions to this general rule. Certain types of debt, such as gambling debts, specific student loans, or expenses related to extramarital affairs, may be treated as separate even if incurred during the marriage. The classification of debt can vary depending on state laws and the specific circumstances of the case.
Debt Division in Equitable Distribution States
In equitable distribution states, the court aims to divide marital property and debt in a manner that is fair and just, though not necessarily equal. The court considers various factors to determine the division of debt, such as each spouse’s financial situation, earning capacity, and contributions to the marriage.
In these states, the judge may assign specific debts to one spouse based on their ability to pay or other relevant factors. For example, if one spouse has a significantly higher income or greater financial resources, they may be assigned a larger portion of the debt. The goal is to achieve a fair division that takes into account the individual circumstances of each spouse.
It’s important to note that if marital assets were used to pay off separate debts, the spouse who did not incur the original debt may be entitled to reimbursement for their share of the assets used. However, the success of such an argument depends on state laws and the specific details of the case.
Debt Division in Community Property States
In community property states, marital property and debt are typically divided equally between the spouses. Community property includes assets and debts acquired during the marriage, regardless of which spouse’s name is attached to them. The goal is to achieve a 50-50 split of both assets and debts.
However, community property states also allow for certain exceptions and considerations. For example, if the value of the community debt exceeds the value of the community property, the court may have the discretion to assign more debt to the spouse who is in a better financial position to pay it off.
It’s worth noting that community property states may have different guidelines for debt division. Some states require equal division, while others allow for an equitable or fair division based on the specific circumstances of the case.
Handling Mortgage Debt in Divorce
One of the most significant financial considerations in divorce is the division of mortgage debt, especially if the marital home is involved. If both spouses are on the mortgage, the most straightforward solution is often to sell the house and split the proceeds. However, selling a home takes time, and interim arrangements must be made to ensure the mortgage payments are maintained to protect both parties’ credit.
If one spouse wishes to keep the home, various options can be explored. One possibility is for that spouse to buy out the other spouse’s equity in the property. This may involve refinancing the mortgage or negotiating a new payment arrangement that removes the other spouse’s financial responsibility.
It’s important to note that transferring the title of the property to the non-borrowing spouse does not relieve the borrower from the obligation to repay the mortgage. The lender is not bound by the terms of the divorce settlement agreement or decree and can still hold both spouses responsible for the debt. To protect their credit and financial interests, it’s crucial for the borrowing spouse to refinance or pay off the mortgage.
Addressing Shared Auto Loans in Divorce
Similar to mortgage debt, shared auto loans must be addressed during divorce proceedings. If both spouses’ names are on the auto loan, one option is to sell the car and divide the proceeds. Alternatively, the court may assign the car and the associated loan to one spouse as part of the overall property division.
It’s important to understand that secured debts, such as auto loans, follow the underlying property. This means that the spouse who receives the car in the divorce will also be responsible for the loan payments. If the loan is not paid, the lender may repossess the vehicle and hold the borrowing spouse accountable for any deficiencies in the loan balance.
To avoid potential complications, it’s crucial to ensure that joint accounts, including credit cards and lines of credit, are closed or cancelled to prevent the accumulation of additional debt by either spouse after the divorce. By separating financial obligations and assets, both parties can establish a clean financial break.
Ensuring Compliance with Debt Obligations
Once the divorce is finalized, it’s essential for both parties to uphold their obligations regarding debt payments. However, it’s worth noting that creditors are not bound by the terms of the divorce decree or settlement agreement. If one spouse fails to make the required debt payments, it can adversely affect both parties’ credit scores.
In such cases, the affected spouse can seek legal remedies by returning to court and holding the non-compliant spouse in contempt. The court can enforce the financial responsibilities outlined in the divorce decree or settlement agreement. However, it’s crucial to follow the terms of the court order until any modifications are made by a judge.
Bankruptcy and Divorce
In some cases, bankruptcy may become a consideration for divorcing couples struggling with overwhelming debt. Bankruptcy is a specialized area of law, and it’s important to consult with a bankruptcy attorney to understand the implications and determine the best course of action.
When considering bankruptcy during divorce, it’s essential to evaluate whether it is more beneficial for one or both spouses to file for bankruptcy. Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies offer different benefits and considerations, depending on individual circumstances.
Timing also plays a crucial role in bankruptcy and divorce proceedings. Couples must determine whether it’s more advantageous to file for bankruptcy before or after the divorce. Consulting with a bankruptcy attorney will provide valuable insight into the best approach for addressing debt in the context of divorce.
Preparing for Dividing Debt in Divorce
To effectively handle debt division in divorce, it’s crucial to be prepared. Start by compiling a comprehensive list of all debts incurred during the marriage, categorizing them as joint obligations or individual obligations as accurately as possible.
During the divorce process, financial declarations must be submitted to the court. These declarations should include an account of all debts, income, and assets. The information provided in these declarations will help guide the court in making equitable decisions regarding debt division.
It’s important to keep in mind that while a divorce settlement agreement can outline the division of debt, creditors are not bound by these agreements. Therefore, it’s essential to take steps to protect one’s credit and financial well-being, such as paying off joint debts or refinancing them in one spouse’s name.
Remember, Florida has specific laws and guidelines regarding debt division, so it’s important to consult with a local attorney familiar with these laws. By taking proactive steps and working with professionals, you can navigate the challenges of dividing debt in divorce and secure a stronger financial future for yourself.
Are you going through a divorce or trying to retain custody of your child? Do you need help with Estate Planning? Maybe you need help with something else that involves your family? At Akilah Harris PLLC., we understand that family law cases are uniquely stressful and often take a heavy emotional toll on families. Our family law offices in Pembroke Pines and Fort Lauderdale Flordia offer compassionate and thorough legal counsel to our clients. Consult with us when you need to protect your finances, assets, and time with your child. In these highly personal disputes, you need to rely on an experienced Broward County Attorney who knows how to defend your rights.