How are Marital Debts Treated in a Divorce?

In Massachusetts, all marital property and assets are split according to equitable distribution considerations. Equitable distribution means fair and reasonable, and that may not be equal.  Marital debts are essentially treated the same way, which means that courts may consider many factors in determining the most “fair” means of allocating debt between divorcing partners.  

Marital Debt vs. Separate Debt

If one party brings debt into the marriage, that party is responsible for the debt after the divorce. Debts incurred during the marriage are generally treated as marital debt, even if they are only in the name of one partner and the other partner was unaware of them. Debts from before the marriage could also be treated as marital debt if they provide a benefit to the marriage, such as a loan to buy a family car or renovate the family home. 

Equitable Distribution of Marital Debt

There are several factors a court considers when dividing marital debt on equitable principles. These factors include:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • The potential earning capacity and income of divorcing couple
  • Health and age of divorcing couple
  • Value of marital assets

If one spouse dissipated marital assets through misconduct, such as paying hotel bills for an extramarital affair with a joint credit card, then the judge could treat those debts as separate debts or allocate that portion of marital debt to the spouse who incurred the debt. For that reason, it is crucial to ensure that all relevant evidence associated with marital debts is brought to the attention of the court. Alternatively, your divorce lawyer could negotiate privately to settle debt issues to avoid revealing certain information in public. 

Mediation vs. Litigation for Marital Debt in Massachusetts

During the divorce process in Massachusetts, divorcing couples can opt to resolve conflict through litigation or the more cooperative and private process of mediation.

During litigation, a court will decide how to fairly and equitably divide marital debts. All information will be made public, and the judge will have the final say in how debt is classified and allocated. Litigation works best for couples who cannot communicate sufficiently to arrange a civil divorce. 

In the mediation process, an unbiased third party strives to help divorcing couples achieve mutually beneficial divorce settlement terms in private. This option offers parties more control over the outcome and distribution of marital debt. 

Contact a Divorce Lawyer Who Understands the Factors That Impact the Division of Marital Debt

To protect your interests and ensure the division of debt is fair in your divorce, it is wise to work with a divorce attorney who understands financial matters. Even if you resolve issues through mediation without an attorney present, your attorney can still advise you about your rights and help you develop a plan to protect your future. For a confidential consultation with a knowledgeable legal adviser at Koiles Pratt Family Law Group, contact us online or call 978-744-7774.

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