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Property division: Dividing marital debt can be challenging

When a New York couple considers a divorce, there are multiple issues to address. Along with child-related matters, the most challenging negotiations may be related to property division. Not all divorcing spouses realize that debt gets divided just like assets when a marriage ends. A couple can negotiate how to divide debt or leave it for the court to decide. However, it must be noted that creditors have little interest in divorce agreements or court orders and will typically continue to hold those who originally signed for the debt fully responsible.

The best option might be to settle all debts before filing for divorce, but this is not always possible. The next best option is to resolve the issues during settlement negotiations. The court typically only divides marital debt in which both spouses had a mutual interest, such as the marital home, automobiles or other marital property enjoyed by both. Debts can be secured or unsecured.

Secured debts include real estate mortgages, auto and boat loans and other debts on which the lenders have liens, allowing for the sale of the secured property if the debts are not paid. The person responsible for paying joint debts must be clearly stated in the separation agreement -- and even that will not guarantee that that spouse will not default on the payment. New York is an equitable distribution state which means that the debt is typically the responsibility of the person who signed for it. Unsecured debts will, therefore, be the responsibility of the person in whose name it is.

Negotiating how to divide debts during property division negotiations can be challenging. For that reason, even if a divorce is amicable, it might be advantageous to utilize the skills of an experienced New York divorce attorney to provide the necessary support and guidance. A lawyer can assist during negotiations, and provide valuable input that might ease the process.

Source:, "Dividing Debt During Divorce," Cathy Meyer, Oct. 13, 2017

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