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Massachusetts divorce: Who pays off debts?

The divorce rate has steadily increased in Massachusetts over the last few decades. In 1960, the divorce rate was 17 percent in the state while in 2015, it had increased to 47 percent, according to data from the Massachusetts Family Institute.

There are numerous assets that require division in a divorce such as property and custody of children. However, one asset couples tend to ignore during a divorce until it is too late is the matter of debt. Even if only one spouse had the debt, the other one could end up stuck with it under certain circumstances.

The matter of separate and marital property

To determine whether one spouse will receive part of the other spouse's debt in divorce comes down to whether it is separate or marital property. For example, if one spouse accumulated a massive amount of debt prior to the marriage and the other spouse did not contribute to the debt after marriage, then that debt would likely be separate property.

In the event that one spouse amassed a large amount of credit card debt during the marriage with a joint account, then it becomes marital property. In this instance, the spouse who did not get into debt may still be responsible for paying part of it off. The judge will need to determine an equitable division of assets to ensure both spouses receive fair treatment.

The matter of sole credit card debt

Even if one spouse did not know about credit card debt amassed during the marriage, he or she may still be responsible for it in divorce. In Massachusetts, debt acquired during marriage is marital property if it meets two factors: as long as the spouse incurred the debt during the marriage and they used the funds for a marital purpose, it is joint debt.

For example, one spouse could have gone into credit card debt buying a car both spouses ended up using. The other spouse may have been completely unaware of the debt but is accountable nonetheless.

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