Liability for Spouse's Debt in Connecticut Divorce
Westport Connecticut Divorce Lawyer
Everyone knows that divorce results not just in a severing of the marital bond between two individuals, but also in a division of property. However, there is less awareness that, as with assets, divorce also requires a division of liabilities. Debt has many forms, including credit cards, student loans, mortgages, and adverse court judgments. With regard to divorce in Connecticut, liability for a spouse’s debt depends on when the debt was acquired, which parties assumed responsibility for it, and, sometimes, in what state the debt was assumed. An experienced Connecticut divorce attorney will prove invaluable in gaining an understanding of how courts weigh these many factors in the divorce process.
The Difference Between Debt Acquired Prior to Marriage and Debt Acquired During Marriage
Assets or liabilities incurred during marriage are divided equitably upon divorce. Assets or liabilities incurred prior to marriage are usually dealt with differently, however. For example, if one spouse took out student loans to pay for college, only that spouse will owe that debt, unless for some reason the other spouse later co-signed for the loans. In dividing liabilities upon divorce, if during marriage one spouse co-signed for the other spouse’s prior debt, a court may have more flexibility in allocating responsibility for repayment. This effectively re-categorizes a prior debt as a contemporaneous debt.
Debt Acquired During Marriage and the Effect of Joint and Several Liability
Joint and several liability is a legal doctrine. It applies in many contexts, and generally means that more than one person can both be required to pay part or all of the applicable loan/liability. Returning to the example of student loan debt, if both spouses co-signed for the loans, they would generally take on re-payment responsibilities jointly. In that case, the lender of the loans would be able to seek full repayment from either party--even if only one spouse went to school and directly benefited from the loans.
Dividing Debt in Connecticut Divorce
In almost all cases, during divorce a court will assign all debt to one spouse or the other. This is the usually the case when spouses owe multiple debts, and the debts can be allocated to each spouse in equal sums. For example, each spouse might be responsible for $20,000 in student loans and $20,000 in automobile loans. A court might choose to make one spouse solely responsible for the student loans, and the other solely responsible for the automobile loans. The rationale for this is that the amount of debt is the same, and severing the debt in this way further facilitates a “clean break” with regard to the marriage. Alternatively, a court may assign one party a larger share of the debt and then "off-set" that by also providing the spouse more assets. Be warned, however, that a court is not required to ensure all asset and liability allocations are equal.
Community Property Issues May Come Into Play
If you were married, or acquired property or debt, in a state that has adopted a community property regime (not Connecticut), both you and your spouse may be held responsible for non-marital prior debt. Community property states include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. For more information regarding how non-community property courts in Connecticut apply community property law from other states in dividing debt upon divorce, contact an experienced Connecticut divorce attorney.