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Understanding the role of debt in property division

When most Pennsylvania residents consider the division of marital wealth, they think about assets such as investments and real estate. It's important to understand that property division encompasses not only assets, but also debt. Failing to properly consider how debt can impact the property division process can yield unfavorable outcomes for certain spouses.

In general, individual spouses are responsible for debt that they brought into the marriage. After exchanging vows, however, new debt that is acquired is very often considered to be jointly held. The manner in which debt is handled during divorce varies from one state to the next.

That can leave one spouse responsible for paying down debt that he or she received no benefit from. For example, if one spouse racked up considerable debt trying to get a new business off the ground, those bills can be divided equally during divorce. The same goes for excessive credit card spending that only one spouse engaged in during the marriage.

For Pennsylvania spouses who are planning to move to another state, understanding how debt is handled in property division is absolutely critical. If the marriage should end, the laws of that jurisdiction will guide how assets are divided, including the division of debt. If divorce seems likely, spouses are well advised to take these issues into consideration before agreeing to relocate. The best way to gain a clear understanding of these issues and make an informed decision is by sitting down with a family law attorney and discussing one's specific scenario. 

Source:, "You Could Get Stuck With Your Spouse's Debt in Divorce", Christy Bieber, Nov. 16, 2017

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