Washington law provides for the division of debts in a divorce exactly as it provides for the division of property. In other words, debts are to be divided between the spouses in a fair and equitable manner. What “fair and equitable” mean for you depends on the circumstances of your case.

Like property, debts are either community debts or separate debts. Debts that either spouse incurred during the marriage are community debts that the court must divide in the divorce proceedings. This is the case regardless of whether one spouse incurred the debt or the spouses jointly incurred the debt. It does not matter which spouse’s name is on the debt; both spouses are responsible for paying debts incurred during the marriage, no matter how they were incurred.

There are a few rare situations in which a spouse might not be held responsible for the other spouse’s debts that he or she incurred during the marriage. For instance, if your spouse racked up a huge credit card debt during your marriage by purchasing gifts and vacations for his or her lover, the court may not hold the “innocent” spouse responsible for these debts. Likewise, if one spouse had a gambling or drug addiction during the marriage and racked up extensive amounts of debt in order to finance his or her habit, then the court may not be inclined to treat assign those debts to the other spouse.

Debts that either spouse incurred prior to the marriage or after the date of separation typically are separate debts that belong to the spouse who individually incurred them. For example, student loan debt is a common type of separate debt that one or both spouses incurred prior to their marriage. If either or both spouses took out student loans during the marriage, however, that student loan debt is subject to division in the divorce as a community debt.

Divorce cases can be extremely complicated, lengthy, emotional, and stressful. No matter the complexity of the issues in your case, we are here to help. The attorneys of Pacific Northwest Family Law have handled all cases involving all aspects of divorce and family law, including property division. Please contact an experienced divorce attorney at our office if you have any questions about divorce or family law in the state of Washington.