Do I Have to Pay Marital Debts if I Didn’t Know About Them?

Financial infidelity is a topic that’s getting a lot more attention lately. As many as 41% of Americans have hidden debts from their spouses. The Internet makes it easier for people to do so, since paper bills don’t come in the mail.

Many of the people who commit financial infidelity think they can repay the debt before the spouse ever finds out about it.

It’s a common cause for divorce. So it’s natural to want to know how your spouse’s indiscretions might affect the final divorce decree.

Know How Debt is Divided

Judges look at marital debt vs. non-marital debt. Marital debt is any debt incurred during the marriage. Non-marital debt is any debt incurred prior to the marriage.

Pennsylvania law demands equitable distribution of both marital assets and debts.

In theory, and in some divorce cases, this could mean you in fact end up responsible for a debt you never knew about.

But equitable is not equal, and judges have a lot of latitude. Some judges will assign all of that debt to your spouse, or give you a greater share of the assets in consideration of those additional debts.

Understand Creditors Don’t Care

Sadly, creditors don’t pay attention to divorce decrees. If your spouse took out debt in his or her own name and didn’t tell you about it, then this may not be a problem. The debt collectors will come after your ex, not you.

But if you both had your name on a debt and the judge assigns it to just one of you, watch out. That person may decide not to pay. When that happens, collection agents will start calling your phone, and your own credit score will fall. Sometimes, you won’t even find out what’s happening to your credit until it’s far too late to fix it.

If making your spouse responsible for certain debts is part of your divorce agreement make sure your attorney adds an indemnification clause. This will give you the ability to take your ex back to court if he or she refuses to pay debts that have been assigned by the decree.

Always Attempt to Settle

You may get a fairer divorce order if you try to work this issue out with your ex rather than allowing the matter to go to trial. Most people intuitively understand that you shouldn’t be responsible for a debt you didn’t know about and didn’t agree to.

Just be aware that you may still have to make compromises. If your ex feels like their financial security is threatened by child support, spousal support, and being asked to pay all the debt that he or she took out, that person may fight quite a bit harder than if you ease off some of your other demands. Ultimately, avoiding the debt is probably the better financial move.

Your divorce attorney can guide you on your specific case.

Have you reached out to a divorce attorney yet?

Divorce gets complex fast. Don’t try to go it alone. Contact our office for a free consultation.

We’ll be happy to discuss how you can protect yourself and how you can guide your divorce to its best possible outcome.

See also:

How Alimony is Changing in Pennsylvania Divorces

The Difference Between Fair and Equitable

5 Places to Look for Hidden Assets


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