Division of Debts
FAMILY LAW ATTORNEYS ASSISTING RESIDENTS OF THE ATLANTA AREA
If you are seeking a Georgia divorce, one of the issues you may need to address is the division of marital debts. Although the term “division of assets” is more often used, the term applies not only to assets but also to marital debts. This can be a thorny issue, particularly if there are significant debts at stake. Individuals in the Atlanta area can consult the lawyers at Rowsey & Stelter for guidance in these family law matters. We have extensive experience assisting residents of Roswell, Sandy Springs, Alpharetta, and other communities throughout Fulton, DeKalb, and Cobb Counties.
HOW EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION MAY APPLY TO DEBTS
In Georgia, marital assets and debts must be divided “equitably.” This does not mean equally, but “fairly,” in accordance with what a family court deems appropriate.
All debts of the spouses are either separate or marital. Certain types of debts are relatively easy to classify. For example, if one spouse had an outstanding student loan debt incurred prior to marriage, that debt would be the separate debt of the spouse who incurred the debt. As a general rule, debts that pre-date the marriage are separate debt.
However, debts incurred by the couple during marriage would be considered marital debt. Typical examples include a home mortgage or an automobile loan. The court can require the spouses to share these debts, or it may also allocate the entire debt to one or the other spouse. For example, if one spouse intends to continue in possession of the marital home as part of the division of assets, or the spouses each take possession of the vehicles that they were accustomed to driving, the court might decide to allocate the remaining debt on those particular assets according to who is going to retain each of them.
Marital debts generally include any debt the couple incurred either together or individually in the course of their married lives, even if the debt may be in the name of one spouse. For example, if one spouse holds a credit card with an additional card issued to the other spouse, debt incurred on that card would be marital debt, and the court would likely require it to be shared. This may be true even if, for example, the husband and wife used the card for items intended for themselves individually, such as if the wife purchased clothing or the husband purchased a golf club membership. As long as the expenditures were normal and accepted by the couple as part of their marriage and were consistent with their standard of living, the court will not generally quibble with the actual dollar expenditures of each spouse.
However, it should be noted that the credit card company retains the contractual right to collect from the individual with whom it has made the credit card agreement, regardless of the court’s allocation of debt. A spouse who is forced to repay a debt owed by the other spouse may have recourse through contempt and enforcement proceedings.
There are some marital debts that courts are unlikely to require the spouses to share. For example, if one person recklessly incurs debt from gambling, foolhardy or extravagant investments, or flagrantly wasteful spending, the court may not require the non-participating spouse to shoulder any portion of that debt.
CONTACT AN ATLANTA LAWYER TO PROTECT YOUR INTERESTS DURING DIVORCE
Properly allocated assets and debts are an important aspect of your divorce settlement. The first step is making sure to account for all assets and debts that exist, both separate and marital, in order to avoid misunderstandings and unresolved disputes later. In some cases, marital assets may be used to eliminate outstanding debts in order to simplify the allocation between the spouses. Our Atlanta attorneys are ready to assist you with any issues that may arise during your divorce, such as property division. If you would like to find out more about your options and how we can help with the division of debts, call us at (770) 993-5317 or use our online form to set up a free appointment.