Courts consider any debts that you or your spouse sign for during your marriage to be joint marital debt. It usually doesn't matter whose name is on the account. If you agreed to repay a loan while you were married, both you and your spouse are responsible for paying it, even though the court will probably assign it to only one of you in your decree.
Bills Must Stay Current During Divorce
For debts secured by collateral - a car loan, for example - courts like to maintain a status quo during divorce proceedings because the lender can take back the property if it doesn't receive payment. This can complicate the divorce a great deal, so courts often issue temporary orders to assign responsibility for paying mortgages and car loans while the divorce is in progress. Judges don't always do this automatically. Sometimes one spouse has to request such a temporary order.
Your Divorce Doesn't Affect Your Creditors
If both you and your spouse sign for a loan while you're married, the creditor can continue to come after both of you for payment after your divorce. It doesn't matter which of you is responsible for paying it in the decree, because your decree has no power over your creditors. If your decree says you must pay certain joint marital debts, and then you file as an individual for bankruptcy, your bankruptcy only wipes out your responsibility for paying these debts. So the creditor will look to your spouse for payment instead.
You Can Take Your Spouse Back to Court
If your decree or marital settlement agreement is worded properly, it can give you some protection if your spouse doesn't pay assigned debts. Most lawyers will include wording that lets you take your spouse back to court if you have to pay a debt for which you're not responsible in the decree. The court will usually order your spouse to pay you back.
Refinancing Can Protect Your Credit
If your spouse doesn't pay marital bills according to your decree, both of your credit ratings may suffer if the debt is in joint names. Your decree can also protect you against this to some extent. If the debt is a mortgage or auto loan with collateral, and if your spouse is keeping the collateral as part of the divorce, you can ask the court to require your spouse to refinance the joint loan into one name.
A Divorce Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding responsibility for debts during and after divorce is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a divorce lawyer.