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How do Ohio courts divide marital debt?

As you face your Ohio divorce, probably one of your main concerns is how the court will divide the marital assets you and your spouse have accumulated during your marriage. But have you ever thought about the fact that your marital debts likewise must be divided between you?

As the Ohio State Bar Association explains, Ohio is an equitable distribution state, meaning that, by law, your marital assets must be divided between the two of you in a fair and equitable manner. Surprisingly, however, Ohio has no specific law with regard to splitting up marital debt. Consequently, if you and your spouse cannot agree on which of you will pay which debts, the court will decide for you. Courts usually do this in one of the four following ways:

  1. Divide your debts equally between you
  2. Divide your debts in proportion to your respective incomes
  3. Divide your debts according to whose name the debts are in
  4. Divide your debts according to which of you incurred them

Debt allocation

As with your assets, not all of your debts constitute marital property. For instance, any debt that either of you incurred prior to your marriage belongs to that person separately. In addition, any loans that either of you took out in your individual name during your marriage usually belong to that spouse alone. Likewise with credit card debt where the credit card belongs to only one of you. All other debts belong to you jointly and must be divided between you fairly and equitably.

Common debt division methodologies

Most couples agree to handle their debts in one of the following ways:

  • Pay them all off together prior to the divorce
  • Each spouse agrees to assume responsibility for paying roughly 50 percent of the debts
  • Each spouse agrees to assume responsibility for certain debts in exchange for receiving “extra” marital assets of roughly equal value
  • Both spouses agree to continue jointly paying down the overall debt after the divorce

Credit card debt

Be aware that, legally, you and your spouse bear equal responsibility for paying any credit card debts that either or both of you incurred on any credit card held in your joint names. This means that regardless of the debt allocation to which the two of you agree, the credit card companies have the right to demand payment from each of you should one of you default on his or her obligation.

This is educational information only and not intended to provide legal advice.

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