Am I Responsible For My Former Spouse’s Debt After Divorce?

Often, when going through a divorce, figuring out where the couple’s assets are going is at the forefront of their minds. However, couples often forget that their debts will also be divided during a divorce.

In the state of Tennessee, divorce is meant to create a fair division of assets and debt. Whether a couple is negotiating debt or the court is deciding for equitable distribution, there are many aspects you should know to determine if you are responsible for your ex-spouse’s debt or not.

Debt Classification for Divorce in Tennessee

Differentiating between marital and non-marital debts can be tricky when you divorce in Tennessee.  Marital property is subject to distribution by the judge as is deemed equitable and fair, based on factors pertaining to income, lifestyle, length of the marriage, and several other factors. Debts are similarly divided, but there are other criteria that apply.

Many people are unsure how these two types of debt work, so let’s take a closer look.

Class 1 – Non-Marital Debt

Non-marital debt is anything that you or your spouse accrued before the marriage or after separation. Non-marital debt is not divided between the parties, but rather the responsibility lies with whoever owns the debt. 

The courts or parties may allow for debt that was accrued during the marriage, but only benefitted one party, to be classified as non-marital debt. However, most debt that is accrued during marriage will be considered marital debt.

Debt Responsibility

It is highly unlikely that a partner will be responsible for their debt classified as non-marital debt. The responsible party will be the account holder or the one who assumes the responsibility for the debt. 

Class 2 – Marital Debt

Marital debt is debt that was accumulated by one or both parties while married. Most often, these are the joint accounts. When going through the divorce process, both parties could agree to divide the marital debts themselves in a settlement agreement. However, if the court is asked to divide up the marital debts, the debts will be divided up fairly to both parties. Meaning that debt may not be divided up equally, but generally speaking, the distribution will be made equitably by the judge.

Debt Responsibility 

Whether or not you are responsible for your spouse’s debt depends on whether or not the debt was acquired before or during the marriage. 

Example of non-paying responsibility:

  • Your ex-spouse takes on debt post-divorce, you will not have to pay for it. 
  • This includes things like credit cards, personal loans, car notes, or mortgages.

Example of potential responsibility for payment:

  • Having your name attached to your partner’s debts could make you responsible. 
  • This includes things like co-signing a personal loan to help them out or co-signing a lease so they can move out.

How Do Courts Handle Joint Debt in Divorces?

When you go through a divorce, any debt accumulated during the marriage will be split between the two spouses. These debts can be divided equally, but hardly is it ever that simple. Some factors that are taken into consideration when dividing debt include:

  • Which person is financially capable of paying the debt now.
  • If one person accrued the debt or if both parties accrued the debt.
  • Which person benefitted the most from the debt.
  • What the purpose of acquiring the debt was.
  • Factors such as fraud or infidelity by a spouse.

Debts that are in both parties’ names will be divided by the court. This could be true even if the debt was only in one spouse’s name. The court may determine if the debt was beneficial for the household as a whole and can enforce that both parties pay the debt.

How Does Tennessee Handle Joint Debt?

It is essential to note that divorce doesn’t legally affect who pays the joint debt in Tennessee. If you and your spouse had previously agreed to pay a debt together or the court-ordered for there to be joint payment and one of the parties forgets to pay, then the other party is still legally liable to the creditors.

How To Minimize The Risk Of Undue Debt

1. Get A Credit Check

It would be wise for you to conduct a credit check when going through a divorce to keep a record of all the obligations attached to your name and make sure your spouse hasn’t taken anything out in your name that you are unaware of.

2. Monitor All Joint Accounts

You should also monitor all joint accounts that you have with your spouse once you are separated. You don’t want your ex-spouse to be accumulating debt in your name without you knowing.

3. Divide Up Debts

If you can, divide up debts from any accounts that you and your spouse have jointly. That way, both parties can remove the names of one another, so the accounts are held in the respective names of who is responsible for them after the divorce.

Choose A Tennessee Divorce Attorney You Can Trust

Divorces get messy. You need an experienced divorce attorney who is an expert in family law—someone who will help you set realistic goals—someone that you trust.

Whether you’re filing for divorce or have been served divorce papers, you may feel like your world has come crashing down around you. It’s a very vulnerable and confusing place to be in, which is why you need the best legal counsel possible to navigate all the ins and outs of divorce law.

Attorney Hunter Fowler has provided legal services to many individuals in your precise situation and will work with you through every detail of your divorce proceedings to ensure the final outcome is what you want for yourself and your family. Contact Hunter Fowler today to get the legal counsel you deserve.