Kathleen J. Smith, Attorney at Law

How do courts handle debt in a California divorce?

As you may know, California is one of several community property states. Under community property laws, courts presume that married couples jointly own the property they have accumulated while married. With this in mind, courts seek to divide assets as equally and as fairly as possible during the property division part of a divorce. Community property also means that courts divide the debts a couple accumulates in a similar manner.

Although the state's divorce courts attempt to divide marital debt equally, the final outcome may not reflect this equality. This is because courts also keep fairness in mind when distributing debts. For example, if one of you takes out a student loan, the court may rule that only the borrower is responsible for this debt.

Other examples of debt that may not be split evenly during property division include the following.

  • Business debts kept separate from marital debts
  • Support obligations from a previous marriage or partnership
  • Fines posed due to criminal activities
  • Restitution payments (e.g. paying compensation to an injured party)

The list above contains examples only and does not represent exactly how a court may divide your debts. Each divorce is unique and so are the property division rulings courts make concerning assets and debt. If you are worried about getting stuck with some of your spouse's debts unfairly, you may wish to take your concerns to a divorce lawyer.

Family law attorneys can help you collect the necessary documentation to show the court why you should not be responsible for your spouse's debt. A legal advocate can also make sure that your property division rights remain protected throughout the divorce.

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