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Matrimonial and Family Law Blog

Monday, October 9, 2017

Am I Liable for Debts That My Ex Incurs After We Separate?

When going through a divorce in New York, you need to be able to anticipate your financial future. While many people focus on the assets they will retain or acquire in the process, it is equally important to evaluate the debt distribution. If you are considering divorce, you may be concerned about the debt that your ex is incurring. Seeking the advice of an experienced matrimonial and family lawyer may be the key to preserving your financial future.

Equitable Distribution

Family courts in New York use the legal concept of “equitable distribution” when allocating assets and debts in divorce cases. The purpose of equitable distribution is to achieve a fair result, taking numerous factors into account. Equitable distribution does not necessarily mean the assets and debts will be divided equally.

One of the factors the courts look at is the nature of the debt. Paying ordinary expenses of the family after separation is encouraged by the courts, so they will apportion these debts 50/50 between the spouses, but the courts disfavor parties who max out the credit cards on extravagant purchases.

For example, if one spouse goes on a spending spree after the divorce action is filed and racks up massive credit card bills on designer clothing and other luxury items, the court will likely assign the debt to that spouse. It is not fair or equitable to make the other spouse pay this debt. On the other hand, if one spouse cuts off the other spouse from the bank accounts and that spouse has to use credit cards to pay the routine family bills, the other spouse will have to pay at least a portion of these credit card bills.

The courts will also explore the conduct of the parties during the separation. When one spouse deceives the other about the intention to work on the marriage, and the other spouse incurs expenses as a result of the deception, the court may stick both parties with the debt.

The Factors Courts Explore for Equitable Distribution

In trying to decide what would be a fair apportionment of assets and debts in a divorce, the courts look at these factors:

  • The income and property each spouse when they married, and when they divorced
  • The age and health of each spouse, and how long the marriage lasted
  • The needs of the custodial parent to provide shelter for any minor children
  • Impact of the divorce on health insurance eligibility
  • The amount of child or spousal support the court intends to award
  • Contributions one spouse made to marital assets that the court cannot award to that spouse. For example, a spouse who supported the other spouse through medical school.
  • The liquidity of marital assets. If one spouse receives primarily non-liquid assets, such as the house, that spouse might have difficulty paying his monthly bills, as opposed to a spouse who gets income-producing assets.
  • The expected financial condition of each spouse
  • The existence of assets that are difficult to value of split up, such as a business. Also, the likelihood that the spouses will not be able to cooperate to manage the asset after the divorce.
  • How the asset and debt distribution, including the award of spousal support, will impact each party’s tax liability.
  • Bad faith by either party, in wasting or spending marital assets during the pending divorce.
  • Other bad faith by either party, in giving away or selling marital assets below fair market value in anticipation of the divorce.

New York law gives judges the option to consider any other factors they find relevant to the equitable distribution of marital assets and debts. While some decisions are criticized as being subjective and arbitrary, the concept of equitable distribution of allows judges to do the right thing for the right reason, rather than applying a cookie cutter approach.

Every case is unique, so to protect your interests you should talk with a divorce attorney in your area. Schedule a consult with one of our New York divorce lawyers to protect yourself and your future.

 


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