Marital debt is any financial obligation acquired by one or both spouses during the course of a marriage. It is typically accrued to benefit the couple/family in some way, and can include:

  • Mortgages to acquire family homes
  • Car loans
  • Personal loans
  • Joint credit cards and lines of credit

It is even possible for one spouse’s pre-marital debt to become a joint obligation. For example, if one has $10,000 worth of credit card debt at the time the couple gets married, and the other spouse uses his or her own funds to pay it down, the debt may become marital because intent has been shown to address it as a couple.

What about student loans?

Like any other debt, student loans can be treated as personal or marital, depending on who took them out and when, as well as how they were paid off. Many New York courts will treat the debt as marital if any of the money was used to pay living costs such as rent, utilities, and groceries. This is because both spouses clearly benefited from the money. On the other hand, if the funds were solely applied to tuition, textbooks, and educational supplies, the debt may be seen as the sole responsibility of the spouse who acquired it.

Division of debt

Debt is divided between the two spouses using the same method for allocating marital assets and property. If the spouses cannot reach their own agreement, then the court will step in and render a decision based on the following factors:

  • The debt total
  • The circumstances under which it was acquired
  • Which spouse benefited more from the debt
  • Which spouse is in a better financial position to pay a debt off

If there is a reason to believe that one spouse deliberately ran up debt to buy presents for a love interest or simply to spite the other spouse, then the court may hold them responsible for the charges they racked up under such circumstances.

When dividing marital debt in New York, both tax and financial implications need to be considered. Selling an asset might be more feasible than keeping it, especially if additional refinancing might be required. A divorce attorney can assist their client with recommendations on how to handle a particularly challenging split.

If you are divorcing and a significant amount of marital debt is involved, then contact a New York family law attorney who can provide you with insights and advice on both equitable debt distribution and the financial ramifications of keeping or selling certain mortgaged or leased assets. Experienced legal representation can help ensure that you do not leave the marriage with liabilities that impede your ability to build a new life. If you are considering divorce and you share debt with your spouse, then call 718-514-6619 to set up a free in-person initial consultation with attorney Jayson Lutzky. He handles both uncontested and contested divorce case and has more than 34 years of legal experience in New York. Visit to learn more today.