The Liability of Medical Bills During Divorce in Florida

by Erika Johansen

Florida's "equitable distribution" law seeks to make a fair division of both marital property and marital debts when a couple divorces. Medical bills incurred during marriage are considered marital liabilities, subject to fair distribution between the spouses. However, medical bills incurred before marriage or during the divorce process, as well as medical bills incurred to care for the couple's children, may be treated differently.

Florida Property Division

In Florida, all assets that the spouses earn or acquire during marriage are considered "marital property," and all debts that the spouses incur during marriage, such as medical bills, are "marital liabilities." Florida follows the equitable distribution system to divide these two types property during a divorce. Under equitable distribution, the court divides the marital property and liabilities in an "equitable" manner, meaning that the court tries to achieve the most fair result for both spouses. This doesn't necessarily mean that the liabilities will be divided up evenly; rather, the court will look at the two spouses' respective earning power, contributions to the marriage, health and other factors, and then decide how to fairly divide the marital property and liabilities.

Separate Liabilities

If one spouse incurred medical liabilities before the start of the marriage, that debt is considered a non-marital, or "separate," liability. Typically, separate liabilities are awarded back to the spouse who incurred them. However, even marital debts may be awarded as separate liabilities if the court believes that one spouse spent recklessly or needlessly. For instance, if one spouse incurred enormous medical debt for unnecessary surgical procedures, a court seeking to divide liabilities fairly might decide to award the liability for those procedures entirely to the spouse who incurred it.

Expenses During Divorce

Under Florida law, the court will generally treat all expenses and debts incurred after the filing of divorce as separate property. So if one spouse incurs medical bills during the divorce process, the court will usually award that medical liability to that spouse. Note, however, that the equitable distribution system does allow the court broad leeway to shift debt between the parties in order to achieve a just result.

Children's Medical Expenses

Unlike spousal medical bills, which are divided based on equitable distribution, the court will usually divide the children's medical expenses along the same lines as child support. Florida law calculates child support by combining the two parents' incomes and then requiring child support in the proportion of the two incomes. For instance, if you make twice as much as your spouse, you will generally be responsible for two-thirds of the required child support. So if your child has incurred $1,200 in medical bills, then you would be responsible for $800, while your spouse would need to pay $400.