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Divorce and Debt: Frequently Asked Questions

Couple Managing Debt
From calculating child support and alimony to deciding who gets to keep the dog, there are several decisions that come with getting a divorce. Many divorcing couples fight over assets, including property, bank accounts, and retirement funds. However, while many couples are focusing on assets, they often forget about who is responsible for the debts incurred before and during the marriage.

Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions you might have about divorce and debt.

What Are Some Example of Marital Debt?

The debts incurred in a marriage are the responsibility of both spouses, according to Georgia law. Typically, there are two types of debt that are divided: unsecured and secured. Secured debts refer to any debt that is backed by collateral, such as a house, vehicle, boat, or anything of value. An unsecured debt is a personal debt, such as credit card debt.

In many cases, when a spouse becomes the sole owner of a secured debt, such as the family home, the other spouse will not be responsible for paying the mortgage. However, even if the judge determines that the spouse who occupies the house is solely responsible for the mortgage, the other spouse might still end up responsible for payments if the occupying spouse fails to remain current on the mortgage payments.

The way in which unsecured debt is divided varies on a case by case basis. However, even if only one spouse's name is on a credit card, Georgia law dictates that if the debt is incurred during the marriage, the court can decide that it is the responsibility of both spouses.

What About Any Debt Incurred Before the Marriage?

In Georgia, any debts that were incurred by either spouse before the marriage are their sole responsibility. For example, if either spouse has a credit card, student loan, or medical debt prior to the marriage, the other spouse is not held responsible.

How Are Marital Debts Divided in Georgia?

The way in which debts are divided in Georgia is based on several circumstances. The court will consider who is responsible for incurring the debt, the personal assets and income of each spouse, and the personal debts and financial obligations of each spouse.

For example, if one spouse makes considerably more money than the other spouse and they are responsible for incurring the majority of the debt, the court may make that spouse solely responsible for repaying the entire marital debt. But the court could instead decide that each spouse is equally responsible for paying the debt.

Even if the judge determines that one spouse is solely responsible for a single debt, such as a vehicle loan, it doesn't mean that the other spouse is completely in the clear. If the spouse who is responsible for the debt doesn't pay their bills, creditors will often go after the other spouse if they were originally included on the loan agreement.

What Are Some Ways to Pay Off Marital Debt?

Depending on the amount of marital debt incurred, there are several options available for both spouses to enjoy a fresh start after the divorce. For example, if there is a large amount of marital debt, the divorcing couple might consider selling off joint assets to cover either the entirety or a portion of the debt.

A couple can also choose to split the debt equally, and create a payment plan with each creditor. If the debt is large, other divorcing couples could decide to file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

If you are considering divorce, it is important to understand how marital debts are divided in Georgia. If you have any further questions, contact the professionals at Smith, Massey, Brodie, Guynn, & Mayes, P.A.