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Debts incurred during the marriage, whether or not they are in the name of one or both spouses, are generally marital debts for which either spouse may be entirely responsible. For example, assume the employed Husband refuses to pay the unemployed Wife any money during the divorce and the Wife by necessity accrues credit card debt in her own name for normal family expenses. While only the Wife may be sued directly by the credit card company for non-payment, the judge may order the Husband to pay the Wife an appropriate amount of money with which she would then pay the credit card debt, or the judge can simply order Husband to pay the debt to the credit card company directly. If he does not pay it, the credit card company would sue the Wife, and in turn the Wife would file a motion in the divorce court to hold Husband in contempt of court.


On the contrary, debts incurred after the breakdown of the marriage solely for the benefit of one spouse will probably be assigned to the same spouse. For example, if the Wife charges for a fur coat during the divorce proceedings or the Husband charges for cosmetic eye surgery to eliminate the need for contacts or glasses, that may be classified as "dissipation" and the debt assigned to the guilty spouse.

Often the marital debts are paid off by liquidating marital assets, after which the remaining assets (the "net marital estate") are divided. Sometimes debts exceed assets. A negative marital estate may necessitate the filing of bankruptcy. The cost of a joint bankruptcy may be split if filed during the marriage. A child support or maintenance arrearage is not a debt that can be discharged in bankruptcy.

Similarly, if a spouse surreptitiously cancels the health insurance of the other spouse, and the uninsured spouse incurs a significant health bill, that bill will probably be assigned to the spouse whom canceled the insurance and created the otherwise avoidable marital debt.

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