During the asset division phase of a divorce, you and your spouse will need to sit down and decide how to divide up your community property. According to Washington state law, community property is that which either you or your spouse have acquired since your marriage began. What not everybody realizes as they begin a divorce is that community property includes not only marital assets but also marital debts. Here’s what you should know about community and individual debts and how they’re handled in a divorce. Debt and divorce

Different Types of Debt in a Divorce

When you or your spouse takes on debt during your marriage, this debt is generally considered to be marital property. That means, both you and your spouse share equal responsibility for that debt—usually even if you didn’t spend that money. You can be accountable for expenses such as:

  • Medical bills and other healthcare expenses
  • Your spouse’s student loans, if taken during marriage
  • Educational expenses for your children
  • A mortgage on the shared family home
  • Home maintenance and repair costs
  • Car payments

There are just a few examples of what is usually considered “community debt.” There may be other debts that are included, too, depending on your situation.

It’s important to understand that even if you didn’t know your spouse had incurred debt, it is still considered community debt. If you cannot come to an agreement with your spouse about who is responsible for what share of the community debt, the court will make a decision based on what it believes to be fair.

Separate Debts in a Divorce

There are also some expenses that you may not be responsible for and you may not include as part of community debt. These are called separate debts and include debts incurred by one spouse or the other before the marriage took place. You are typically not responsible for your spouse’s separate debt, and your spouse is not responsible for yours.

This also holds true for debts incurred once you separate. Once you physically separate from one another, any new debts incurred by your spouse are not your responsibility, unless those debts are on an existing account that still has your name on it such as a shared credit card. That’s why it’s important to open your own accounts and remove your name from shared accounts as soon as possible.

If you do decide to reconcile before your divorce is complete, be aware that you are also once again able to be held liable for those debts that your spouse incurred while you were apart.

Debts incurred that solely benefit one person’s separate property are also generally considered separate property, as well. For example, if prior to marriage your spouse owned a home and he incurred debt repairing or remodeling that home, that debt could be considered a separate debt, and you may not be responsible for a portion of it.

Under most circumstances, you are not allowed to use community property to pay for your separate debts during the divorce. However, it is possible to use community property to pay for things such as spousal support (alimony payments) or child support.

Get Legal Help With Your Divorce

The topic of asset and debt division during a divorce is a complicated one. Every family is unique, and what is considered community or separate property or debt in one case may not be in another. Review your divorce inventory carefully and discuss it with an attorney before you make a legal decision that could affect the outcome of your divorce, especially if you’re in a high-asset divorce situation. An attorney can help you protect your legal rights and advise you of your legal options.

At the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny, we have decades of experience helping families through divorce. We understand that it’s a difficult time in your life, and we are here to help you and your family through the legal process, so you can move forward with your life. To arrange a private consultation at our Bellevue location, call us by phone today, or use our contact form to send us an email.


Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington