One of the most common concerns for those faced with divorce is how their financial situation will be handled and affected by the separation. Among those queries is the issue of whether or not one is responsible for debts incurred by one’s spouse during the divorce.
And, most often, the answer is: It depends.
As a general rule of thumb, the state of California does not hold a person incumbent for any debts that their spouse has incurred after the separation. However, there are exceptions to this rule, which are dependent upon two factors: What the debt was for and when the debt was incurred.
In most divorce cases, a spouse’s debt can be determined to fall under one of the following three categories: Common necessaries of life, necessaries of life, and non-necessaries.
Common necessaries of life are described as essentialities, items, or services that are necessary for all people and families to sustain a fundamental standard of life. This includes items such as food, clothing, shelter, and basic healthcare.
Meanwhile, necessaries of life, though similar to common necessaries of life, are inclusive of necessities that are unique to a specific individual’s standard of living and age as well as other factors such as family, career-related, or locational circumstances. This includes items such as equipment or computers, which may not be required for all people to live, but are necessary for someone to sufficiently carry out their business
Finally, non-necessaries are items or demands that do not fall under the first two categories and, for all intents and purposes, may be considered relative luxuries that are not required to sustain one’s life, business, or socioeconomic status.
As for when the debt was incurred, there are two crucial moments you must be mindful of during your divorce proceedings. The first is the time between the date of your separation and the date you enter your judgment of dissolution. The second is the time after you enter your judgment of dissolution.
Depending on multiple factors, you may be responsible for debt incurred by your spouse during the period between the date of your separation and the date you enter your judgment of dissolution if the debt was incurred to cover common necessaries or necessaries of life for your children. California Family Code section 2623(a) states:
Debts incurred by either spouse for the common necessaries of life of either spouse or the necessaries of life of the children of the marriage for whom support may be ordered, in the absence of a court order or written agreement for support or for the payment of these debts, shall be confirmed to either spouse according to the parties’ respective needs and abilities to pay at the time the debt was incurred.
To better understand this, let’s assume that, prior to the separation, you and your spouse enjoyed taking Pilates classes together just for leisure. After you begin your divorce filings, your spouse decides to go into debt to continue with their Pilates classes without consulting you or the court. In this case, even if your spouse insists that you pay for the classes, you are not responsible for any part of this debt, given that your spouse voluntarily chose to attend the classes despite it not being a common necessary of life or a necessary of life for them or your children.
On the other hand, let’s assume that, after the separation, your spouse lost their job and, with no savings or investments, they had to resort to loaned money to pay for food, clothing, rent, and essential utilities. If you are still employed and have a decent income, you are most likely responsible for the debt they have incurred in order to survive.
As for non-necessaries, the line seems to be fairly clear and self-explanatory. You are not responsible for the loan your spouse has taken out to purchase a new BMW or a cruise to the Bahamas.
Now, once the court has entered a judgment of dissolution, you are no longer responsible for any debts your spouse has incurred regardless of what it was for. The debt becomes the sole responsibility of the individual. California Family Code section 2624 states:
Debts incurred by either spouse after entry of a judgment of dissolution of marriage but before termination of the parties’ marital status or after entry of a judgment of legal separation of the parties shall be confirmed without offset to the spouse who incurred the debt.
Simply put, this means you are free at last from your spouse’s financial burdens.
Going through a divorce can be an extremely straining experience mentally, emotionally, and financially for all parties involved. After all, it is a process of terminating a social contract during which many confusing moments will inevitably arise. While you may always be able to find clear answers, being cognizant of your legal realities can help alleviate the pain and make the process a little less daunting and more manageable.
Furthermore, it’s important to always remember that you don’t have to go through this process alone: The Law Office of Azemika & Azemika is prepared and eager to aggressively advocate for your interests and bring you the peace of mind you and your family deserve. With a combined total of 56 years of experience handling and winning family law cases in Kern County, our attorneys will guide you through the tedious details surrounding division of property, commingling, and other contentious areas of California divorce law.
Contact us today and let us fight for you.