Too many clients assume partners’ debts are joint when they’re not. Joint debt is divided up between the parties to the divorce. But if it is not joint, or marital debt,
In Florida, courts begin a division of debt with the presumption that marital assets and debts should be split 50/50, but the judge can change this distribution after considering factors such as the duration of the marriage and the contributions to the marriage by each spouse.
Non-marital debt, however, stays with whoever created the debt. An example might be a car loan for a car that was purchased before the marriage.
Assuming that, like most people(unfortunately) your divorce has been “stewing” for quite some time, it might make sense to pay down your non-marital debt as much as is practicable prior to filing for divorce, as opposed to paying down non-marital debt, assuming that both spouses in the marriage have comparable earnings, and all other things are equal, your spouse will get 1/2 the joint debt. You get more debt payment for the dollar if, before filing, you move whatever extra dollars you have into paying your non-marital debt.
You also need to be sure that you know what is and is not joint debt. On the court’s financial disclosure affidavit, both parties are required to list their marital debt. If your spouse lists a debt, that is arguably a non-marital debt, your attorney should dispute that, to ensure that you are not on the hook for paying a debt that is not yours.
The last thing you want is to be on the hook for debts you didn’t accumulate.
As always, every situation is unique. This series is intended to “start the thinking process” to take emotive choices out of a hard situation. Everyone’s situation is different, and this is not intended as legal advice. Please, speak to a divorce attorney prior to making any decisions, especially decisions based on a simple blog post. There are many mitigating factors that will go into the final divorce decree.