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Who pays shared debts after a divorce?

After marriage, couples often build a life together that may include taking on shared debt. If they help each other through college, buy a home, purchase cars and raise children, they likely amass thousands in debt. It may seem like this is just another part of married life until the marriage begins to falter. What happens to all that debt when a couple files for divorce?

Most people understand that assets are divided according to some formula. For example, the state of Michigan has laws which may be different from other states, but their purpose is to protect spouses with a theoretically equal distribution of assets and debts. Individual debts typically remain the responsibility of the spouse who incurred them, especially if the spouse took on those debts before the wedding. However, if a couple has shared debts, these are not as easy to divide.

The divorcing spouses may be able to come to an agreement about who will take responsibility for which debts. A judge may even order one or the other spouse to pay on the balance owed to a particular creditor. However, even such an order may not relieve one spouse of liability for the debt in the eyes of the creditor.

If both spouses' names are on the loan, both spouses may be sought by the creditor. If the spouse ordered by the court to take on the debt refuses to pay the bill, the other spouse may face the consequences in the form of damage to credit history, foreclosure or repossession, wage garnishment or other forms of debt collection. There are ways to minimize these possibilities, but they are best initiated as early as possible to avoid negative consequences. An attorney can assist anyone in Michigan with concerns about debt and divorce.

Source: fool.com, "You Could Get Stuck With Your Spouse's Debt in Divorce", Christy Bieber, Nov. 16, 2017

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