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Will you need to pay off your ex's debts in a divorce?

Getting divorced is often a source of major stress and uncertainty for everyone involved. Some families have valid prenuptial agreements that will guide the division of assets. The majority, however, will have to decide at the time of their separation how to split things up. If you can't find a mutually agreeable compromise with your spouse, that will probably mean heading to court to determine who gets what in your divorce.

You and your spouse will both have to wait for the courts to decide on the terms for property division in your divorce. It's important that you realize, however, that your possessions or assets as well as your debts will all be subject to division.

California seeks to fairly divide community property

California generally looks at all debts and assets acquired in a marriage as community property. Each spouse has an interest in those debts and assets. That doesn't necessarily mean each spouse will inherently receive a 50 percent share of the marital property, but that is usually the guiding principle.

In some cases, such as people medically unable to work, the courts may approach the division of debts and assets differently. In many cases, however, you can expect to share in everything acquired during your marriage, both good and bad.

Debts, excluding dissipation, end up shared between spouses

Maybe your spouse went back to school to pursue a graduate degree or finish an undergrad degree during your marriage. You may think that because those student loans were only in your ex's name, he or she will end up paying them off. However, chances are pretty strong that you will split that debt, even if the funds only went to paying for education for one person. After all, the whole household would potentially benefit from that higher education and improved earning potential.

Credit card debts and medical debts in only one spouse's name are also commonly split up in a divorce. However, there are some exceptions to that rule. If your spouse went out and opened a new credit card as you approached divorce, that could be a case of dissipation. Dissipation can impact the outcome of the asset and debt division process.

Dissipation occurs when one spouse intentionally racks up major credit card debt, spends a lot of money or gives away marital assets as a means of diminishing the marital estate. It's a relatively common strategy for limiting the pool of assets as you head toward divorce or even punishing a former spouse by forcing him or her to pay for a spending spree. The courts generally frown on this practice and may allocate debts that result from dissipation to the spouse who did the spending.

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