How Are Debts Typically Split in a Maryland Divorce?
Debt and other financial concerns spark many divorces; unfortunately, these issues don't disappear when couples call it quits. From student loans to credit cards, debt can further complicate an already frustrating process.
Before you understand how debt is divided, it's critical that you grasp the difference between sole and joint debt — and how liability comes into play. First and foremost: Debt your ex took on prior to marriage is (in most cases) none of your concern. This includes student loans, auto loans, and credit cards. If your ex fails to make payments on previous loans, you have nothing to fear, as stipulated in Maryland Code §4–301.
Unfortunately, you can be held liable for debts you and your ex took on together. For example, if your ex fails to pay his or her share of the mortgage, you may bear the brunt of the consequences. Further complications arise for debts only partially shared by the couple. This is most common in home ownership. Perhaps one spouse obtained a mortgage prior to marriage, but later used marital funds to make monthly payments or household improvements. This property's classification would become partially marital, as would the mortgage.
The Role of Equitable Property
Maryland is an equitable distribution state. Here, as in many states, shared property is not necessarily divided equally. Rather, the term “equitable” refers to fairness in division. Courts take several factors into account, including each spouse's earnings, the standard of living enjoyed throughout the marriage, and whether one spouse sacrificed earning potential to care for children.
Creative Solutions for Shared Debt
Spouses who pursue mediation or collaboration often forge their own path in dividing debt. Many divide real estate or other assets to account for debt. For example, spouses concerned about liability may take on the bulk of marital debt in exchange for a greater share of specific assets. This approach is particularly common among spouses with joint business affairs; one partner may prefer to take on both business assets and associated debt.