Can The Court Make Me Pay My Wife’s Debt in My Divorce?

Maybe. Just as with marital property, courts can allocate or divide debt in a Colorado divorce. As with property division, the first step to determining what debt a court has authority, or jurisdiction, to divide ties into whether the debt is “marital” in nature. In a general sense, marital debt is going to be any debt accrued during the marriage. The name listed on the debt is generally going to be immaterial to the court, similar to titling on property acquired during the marriage. Regardless of titling, a court is going to look at the nature of the debt, including the purpose for which it was incurred. It will then allocate the debt among the parties as it sees equitable.

One basic rule tied into dealing with marital debt in a divorce is that debt incurred before the marriage is separate in nature and the court has no authority to require the other party to pay any portion of it. This would go for credit cards, student loans, or any other premarital obligations.

Once married, the analysis Denver divorce attorneys will go through will be an assessment of the debt accrued during the marriage tied into the purpose for which it was incurred. Debts incurred for marital endeavors, such as food, clothing, shelter, vacations, purchases, or other items are generally going to be determined to be marital and subject to division. This applies whether the debt was incurred on a joint account or in one party’s individual name. However, if one party has wracked up debt for self-centered, individual pursuits, such as diamonds, furs, gambling, their vintage car, hobbies, etc., the court may conclude that that debt is not marital in nature or that requiring the other party to share in such would not be fair. Furthermore, there are instances in which debt is unnecessarily incurred, such as in cases in which the parties have ample income to meet all of their financial needs without going into debt. Needlessly incurred debt may be removed from the aggregate before division. Each case is different and attention to detail matters.

Student loans are another facet of debt analysis which may can become a contentious topic as people go through a divorce. Though people often presume that a student loan is solely for the benefit of the party incurring it, courts do have the authority to allocate this type of debt. Again, this would only tie into student loans incurred during the marriage. The logic a court may apply is that the person incurring the student loan has benefitted the family in that he or she is able to make more income, thereby affecting child support, maintenance (alimony), asset accrual, and the overall financial makeup of the family. In cases in which a person has incurred student loan debt, yet just chose not to finish, a court is not as likely to force the other party to contribute. Again, each case is different.

As with marital property division in a Colorado divorce, the norm is that marital debt will be allocated equally. Though courts can make one party share in the other’s debt, they are also aware of the risk one may face to their credit when relying on their former spouse to pay. As such, trying to put debt in the titled parties name is advisable to the extent that it can be done without overloading them or throwing off the normal balance of allocation. If you need legal representation regarding the division of debt in your Denver divorce, contact the attorneys at Plog & Stein. With over 60 years of combined family law experience we are well equipped to address your concerns.

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