How is debt divided in a divorce?

When two people decide to get married, they bring more than just their personalities and preferences to their relationships. They also bring their financial histories and obligations, such as debts from student loans, credit cards, mortgages or other sources. Some of these debts might have been there before they got married. But there’s no doubt they could also come up during the marriage.

These debts can affect both people or maybe just one. So, what happens to these debts if the marriage ends in divorce?

Equitable distribution state

In Pennsylvania, the court handles the division of debt in a divorce under the state’s marital property laws. This means both spouses are typically responsible for debt acquired during the marriage, regardless of whether one or both parties incurred it. However, a divorce’s division of assets and debts is not split 50/50. In fact, the state of Pennsylvania follows the principle of equitable distribution, which means that marital debt is divided fairly but not necessarily equally between the spouses. This is true for assets, property and debts alike.

For example, the court might require one spouse to pay off the vacation home you shared while you may retain possession of your primary residence.

Nonmarital debt

While marital debt is any debt a spouse accumulates during marriage, the court considers another type called nonmarital debt. Also known as separate debt, a spouse who acquired loans, credits or debts from other providers must pay these debts independently. Because they incurred it before or after separation, this type is not usually divided in a divorce. And it remains the responsibility of the spouse who incurred it.

Splitting up debt in a divorce can be tricky and a bit stressful, especially when dealing with marital and nonmarital debts. In states like Pennsylvania, the law tries to split these debts fairly, not necessarily equally. And this depends on a bunch of different things.

Understanding the big difference in debt division is essential. It can guide you and your spouse in agreeing on a fair split of things outside of court, which you can then present to the court for approval.


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