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Debt Division in Virginia: Divorcing and Dividing by the Rules

In the process of a divorce, there is a lot to decide and think about. One issue you might not consider right away is the division of any marital debt between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse. In the state of Virginia, the law follows the concept of “equitable distribution,” meaning that just like property or furniture, your debt is divided equally too. While this sounds simple on the surface, it can actually get quite complex.

The Importance of Proper Debt Division

Achieving proper debt division prior to divorce is important for one main reason – to make you aware of what, if any, liabilities you’ll have after the marriage is officially dissolved. Divorce itself comes with enough mental and emotional anguish – the last thing you need is unpleasant financial news as well. In most instances, debt division can be worked out between the two parties and their attorneys. However, if a conclusion cannot be reached, the court can get involved and make a ruling.

Dividing Marital Debt in Virginia

Marital debt is typically defined as debt you incurred after you were married and falls under marital property. Anything that you or your spouse purchased during the course of the marriage and still owe money on falls under marital debt. Seems pretty simple, right?

But what happens if your spouse secretly purchased a big-ticket item that was for personal use and of no benefit to your family? Would you still be responsible for the debt owed on this?

Questions such as this are why debt division can quickly become a slippery slope and why you should always involve a qualified divorce lawyer to ensure it is done correctly.

Examples of marital debt under Virginia law include:

  • Credit card debt incurred during the marriage
  • Furniture or other items within the home that was used by both parties
  • Any money owed on family vacations, timeshares, or other leisure activities enjoyed together
  • Home mortgage or car payments

Separate debt is typically defined as:

  • Student loans prior to the marriage
  • Large purchases made prior to the marriage, during separation, or during the marriage but unbeknownst to the opposing spouse.
  • Funds owed on credit used in separate bank accounts or credit cards not involving the other party.

Of course, any singular debt must be proven. It’s a good idea to save any voicemails, text conversations, paperwork, or anything else to prove you were unaware of a particular purchase or not attached to a credit account.

Equitable Debt Is Not Always Equal

If the court gets involved with your debt division case, they will try to divide your debt fairly. But it won’t always be equal in a literal sense. The judge will take factors into account such as the income of each party, how both sides will benefit from the use of the property/item in question, and other outstanding debts. While the goal is to make the division equitable, it also needs to be realistic.

In the courtroom, a typical checklist used by the judge to make a decision will include:

  • Income
  • Length of marriage
  • Cause of marriage dissolution
  • Specific details on the acquisition of the debt or property in question
  • Taxes, loan interest, and other obligations that could negatively impact one party more than another
  • The mental and physical health of each party
  • Who is the primary caretaker of any dependent children from the marriage

Any marital debt brought to the court will be treated the same as any debt-free item or investment.

Do You Need to Speak to a Virginia Divorce Attorney?

If you are considering divorce you need to speak with an experienced Virginia divorce attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Fairfax, Virginia law office at 703.277.2811 to schedule your free consultation. We help clients throughout Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia and look forward to helping you.

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