Before a divorce is final in Utah, the parties must divide their marital property and debt. If the couple cannot agree, the court divides the property and debt. Normally, each bill is assigned to one of the parties and that person becomes responsible for paying it.
Utah law gives the court authority to make an equitable distribution of marital debts. "Equitable" generally means what is fair and just under the circumstances. Utah does not have specific factors for determining what an equitable distribution of debt in a divorce is. Generally, a court looks at the total divorce settlement, including property, debt, child support and alimony, to determine what is fair under the specific circumstances of the divorce.
Normally, a specific bill is assigned to the person who receives the benefit of the bill. For example, the court will assign the car payment to the person assigned the car so the other party cannot put the car in danger of repossession by failing to make the payments. Similarly, a past due utility bill normally gets assigned to the same person as the house so the other party cannot have the utility shut off. However, in some cases, the court will assign a bill to the party who doesn't receive the associated property if the court finds it equitable to do so. For example, if one spouse has a much higher-paying job, that spouse might be assigned bills for property she doesn't receive. Finally, the parties' individual bills for separate property are not divided as the other party has no obligation to pay a spouse's individual debt.
Utah law provides that the court can order the parties to notify creditors that bills have been assigned to the individual parties. Both parties are still responsible for the debt. However, once the creditor receives proper notice the court has assigned the bill to one of the parties, the creditor cannot file negative credit reports against the party not assigned the debt. The creditor can only resume filing negative credit reports against the party not assigned the debt after the creditor informs that party the other person is not making payments and demands payment.
Filing for divorce does not suspend the obligation to pay bills. Utah has a 90 day waiting period between the time a petition for divorce is granted and when the court can first grant the divorce. If bills are not paid during that time, significant late fees can accumulate. If the couple cannot agree who should pay the bills while the divorce is pending, the court can make temporary orders assigning the responsibility of the bills to one of the parties.