How is debt divided during a divorce in Georgia?

The way debt is handled during divorce typically depends on when it was obtained, along with each spouse’s financial standing and role in accruing the debt.

Debt is a burden that the majority of Americans struggle with today. National Public Radio recently reported that 80 percent of people in the U.S. carry some form of debt. Unfortunately, this means that many people getting divorced in Alpharetta will need to deal with the division of debt during their settlements. It is essential that these spouses understand how financial liabilities are treated and distributed during divorces in Georgia.

Which debt is considered marital?

The way that debt is handled during divorce depends largely on whether it is marital or separate debt. As materials from the State Bar of Georgia explain, most assets and debts obtained while two people are married qualify as marital property. Property acquired before marriage is considered separate property. During divorce, marital property and debts are subject to equitable distribution between spouses, while separate property and debts remain with the original owner.

Typically, debt incurred during marriage is considered marital regardless of whether one or both spouses accrued it. For example, if both spouses are co-signers on a credit card and one spouse accumulated debt on the card, both spouses will likely be considered liable. However, judges may not always divide credit card debt during divorce. If one spouse independently accrued debt and the debt is only in that spouse's name, it might not be subject to distribution at the time of divorce.

How are marital liabilities distributed?

In Georgia, family law judges don't follow set guidelines when dividing debt during divorce. Instead, they evaluate various factors to determine what kind of division would be equitable. These factors include:

  • The way that each spouse contributed to the accumulation of the debt.
  • Each spouse's income, assets and overall ability to repay the debt.
  • Each person's existing obligations or liabilities.

Under these guidelines, predicting how debt will be divided can be challenging. Sometimes, a judge may allocate more debt to the spouse who was responsible for accruing the debt. In other divorces, the spouse with greater financial means may be ordered to repay more of the marital debt. In the case of secured debts, such as auto loans or mortgages, a judge may assign responsibility to the spouse who keeps the property in question.

What else should spouses know?

A family law judge can assign certain debts exclusively to each spouse or require both spouses to make payments toward each marital debt. In either case, spouses should understand that a divorce decree doesn't mitigate a person's legal liability to his or her creditors. According to The Huffington Post, if a person's name appears on a loan agreement that the ex-spouse is responsible for repaying, the person may still be held liable if the ex-spouse defaults.

To reduce the risk of this outcome, spouses should consider working with an attorney during the property division process. An attorney can help a spouse explore options for repaying debt before divorce or ensuring protection against unwanted financial complications after divorce.