Money Matters:  Assets & Liabilities

DIVIDING DEBT IN DIVORCE

By Ginita Wall, CPA, CFP

Q.  I know that California says that I get half of the property my husband and I have accumulated during our marriage. But what we have is mostly debts. What's the best way to deal with them?

A. Unfortunately, its not unusual for couples these days to have more debts than assets.

The general rule is that debts incurred during the marriage are the obligation of both spouses. To deal with those debts, you can use what joint funds you have to pay off your debts, or you can divide the debts equally with each of you paying off certain of them.

If you have greater earning power than your husband, you may agree to pay off more of the debts in exchange for getting something else, such as equity in the house or your retirement plan.

If your husband agrees to pay some of the debts, be careful. Your agreement is between the two of you, and not your creditors. Creditors can still look to you for repayment of debt even though your husband agreed to pay the bills.

If possible, have him transfer the balances on joint accounts he has agreed to pay to a credit card in his name alone. Close any joint retail charge or credit card accounts, so that you won't be responsible for your spouse's future charges. Most creditors will handle your request with no problem, but some may require that you pay off the balance before they will close the account.

If the account remains open, ask that it be frozen, so your spouse can't continue to charge.

This Article Dividing Debt In Divorce was written by Ginita Wall, CPA, CFP