Divorced Couple Looking at Shared Debt PaperworkMarried couples share everything—including debt. During a marriage, you may rack up joint debt through credit card debt, car loans, a mortgage, and home equity loans. It is vital that during the divorce process, all of these loans are either assigned or paid for with assets.

At the conclusion of divorce proceedings, the judge issues a Final Divorce Order outlining each party’s awards and responsibilities. The order says who gets which items accumulated during the marriage and which spouse is responsible for paying off debts. Since violating a court order is against the law, you may be able to take legal action against a spouse for non-payment of their debts.

What Happens to Our Debt in a Divorce?

During property division in a Washington state divorce, joint debts are either paid or assigned to a spouse according to the nature of that debt. If the debt is a car loan, the person getting the car in the divorce should often take responsibility for that debt. In cases where debt assignment isn’t as clear, divorcing couples may consider assigning the debt to the more financially-responsible person or the person with an income that allows them to pay the debt.

How Does an Ex-Spouse’s Non-Payment Affect Me?

Remember: just because a debt is not assigned to you in a divorce decree doesn’t mean that your name is no longer connected with it. Creditors can continue to charge interest on outstanding debts or send unpaid bills to collection agencies—and you may not learn of your spouse’s actions until creditors start coming after you.

From the creditor’s perspective, both parties are responsible for a shared debt regardless of their marital status. The Final Divorce Order sets rules for you and your ex regarding community debt, but creditors do not have to follow it. An ex-spouse who doesn’t pay off assigned debts could harm your credit, rack up high fees and interest costs, and cause lead to harassing phone calls from debt collectors.

Actions to Take for Non-Payment of Shared Debts

Debts should be only under the name of the person assigned to pay them, and joint accounts should be closed during property division. If any accounts are still in both names and they are paid off, call the company and ask to have your name removed from the account. You should also request a free credit report to determine the problem's extent.

Common ways to resolve non-payment issues include:

  • Talking to your ex. Some spouses may stop payments out of spite, but others might not have the money to keep up with the payments. If you’re comfortable communicating with your ex, ask them why the debts aren’t being paid and ask them to move the debt into an account in their name only.
  • Motion for contempt. If you file a motion for contempt, your spouse will have to appear in front of a judge and explain why the debt isn’t paid. If your spouse has the ability to pay, the court may compel them to settle the debt or risk criminal charges.
  • Clarification in the alternative. If your spouse wasn’t paying a debt because they misunderstood the terms of the divorce decree, you could ask the court to clarify the order to prevent future violations. If non-payment continues, your spouse may be held in contempt.

Get Help From a Washington State Divorce Attorney

If you’re struggling with debt assignments from your divorce, call the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny at (425) 460-0550 to arrange a private consultation. We can explain your options under the law and guide you through your next steps. If you prefer we contact you, use our online contact form or read through our free guide, 9 Urban Myths about Divorce That Can Hurt You.


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