The Responsibility for Medical Debt in a Divorce

By Teo Spengler

With the high cost of medical treatment in this country, unexpected medical bills can ruin a family budget and diminish a savings account. Couples who divorce with outstanding medical bills must face the issue of who pays the debt when the marriage is over. The answer depends on the circumstances of the couple and the laws of the state in which they live.

With the high cost of medical treatment in this country, unexpected medical bills can ruin a family budget and diminish a savings account. Couples who divorce with outstanding medical bills must face the issue of who pays the debt when the marriage is over. The answer depends on the circumstances of the couple and the laws of the state in which they live.

Medical Bill Obligation

A marriage unites a couple "in sickness and in health," but the medical bills incurred during the spouses' time together can become a bone of contention in a divorce. In most states, medical bills for any member of the family are considered marital debt. This is true regardless of whether the medical treatment was elective or whether the other spouse approved of it at the time.

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Community Property States

Some states have adopted community property rules for dividing property and debt of divorcing couples. In community property states, all income earned and debt incurred by either spouse during the marriage belongs equally to each of them. Income earned or debt incurred before the marriage by a spouse is her separate property or debt. In these states, each divorcing spouse is assigned to assets equal to one-half the total net value of the community estate. To accomplish this, each spouse might be assigned half the couples' assets and half the debts. Alternatively, one spouse might be given title to a large asset such as real property that cannot easily be split down the middle, but also assigned all the medical debt.

Equitable Division States

In other states, the courts apply the principals of equitable division in a divorce. Assets and debt are divided fairly between the couple, but not necessarily equally. Unless the divorcing spouses can agree on an equitable manner of separating property and debt between them, the court decides on the division. In an equitable division state, medical debt may be apportioned to either spouse as long as the overall division is fair and reasonable given the circumstances.

Liability for Medical Debts

Although the court can determine which of the spouses must assume a marital debt, the creditor is not always bound by the divorce decree. If the divorce judge assigns medical debt to a spouse who loses her job and cannot make payments, the creditor can often still take legal action against the other spouse.

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Alabama's Divorce Law: Who Is Responsible for Credit Card Debt?

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How Is Debt Split in a Divorce in California?

During a divorce, many couples focus on the division of community assets and often don’t realize that marital debt is also divided when a marriage is dissolved. In California, property obtained during the marriage is considered jointly owned by both spouses and may be subject to division in a divorce settlement. Divorcing spouses are also liable for community debt incurred during the marriage, and the court will determine the most equitable division of these liabilities.

Life Estates & Divorce

One of the most important and complicated aspects of a divorce proceeding is dividing marital property, which may include property subject to a life estate. Divorces are subject to the law of the state where the proceeding is taking place, so the process of dividing up property will vary.

Community Property Laws & Credit Cards

Where you live largely determines how your credit card debt is split in a divorce. As a resident of a community property state, the court is likely to divide this debt equally between you and your spouse. However, under certain circumstances, this might not be the case. You also need to keep in mind that credit card companies are not bound by the debt allocation in a divorce decree.

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