In Louisiana, a community property state, marital debt, just like marital assets, are split during divorce. However, just because you or your spouse is ordered to pay a debt, it does not change the contract to the debtor. In other words, even if your spouse is ordered to pay a debt in the divorce settlement, YOU may still be liable. For example, if your name is on a car loan or home mortgage you will continue to be held responsible post divorce for those debts no matter who was ordered to pay them by the court. This is yet another reason to work together during a divorce to make sure both parties are financially solvent and can fulfill their obligations.
The only agreement a creditor must abide by is the one you signed with them. It doesn’t matter if your final decree of divorce states that your ex is to pay the car loan. That does not release you of your obligation for the loan. It is for this reason that the best course of action for couples to work together and pay off as many community debts as possible before filing for a divorce.
If your ex is ordered to pay debts X, Y and Z and fails to do so, a creditor will come after you if your name is also on the loan agreement. Non-payment of a debt will affect BOTH parties’ credit- regardless of who was ordered by the Court to pay the debt. This is the most important thing you need to know when it comes to dividing debt during the divorce process.
How About Debt You Weren’t Aware of?
Because Louisiana is a community property state, you can be held responsible for debt incurred by your spouse even if you were unaware of the debt and did not sign an agreement with a creditor. In other words, in a community property state marital debt is considered joint debt — debt that you are both responsible for. A creditor can come after you for payment of debt you did not create.
To help protect yourself, full financial disclosure is important during settlement negotiations. You should make a detailed list of all account numbers, amounts owed, and who is responsible for each of the debts. The Family Court Affidavit for the 22nd Judicial District is available on their website and will help you with this. Additionally, Order a copy of your credit report and monitor it periodically to make sure no debts were missed.
Refinancing Secured Loans
It isn’t uncommon for a divorce attorney to suggest that you have your name removed from the title of a marital home or automobile. DO NOT do this if there is an outstanding loan and your name is on the loan agreement.
You need to insist that any property that is still under a finance agreement be refinanced in your spouse’s name alone. For example, if your ex is going to keep the car and the loan is in both names, your name needs to be removed from the loan and this can only be done if he refinances the loan. Make sure that your spouse is financially stable enough to get the financing needed to take and pay for the asset without your credit.
Make sure that there is language in your final decree of divorce that states the property is to be refinanced and the time period in which he is to complete the refinance. There should also be language in your divorce decree that states the consequences to your ex if he does not follow through with refinancing the property.
For example, if he remained in the family home and is supposed to refinance the home into his name within six months of the divorce and doesn’t do so, the home will be put on the market and sold. Knowing he may lose a property to sale can often motivate an ex to do the right thing.
TIPS TO PROTECT YOUR CREDIT
• Pay off as much debt as possible before filing for divorce.
• Make sure you are aware of all debt in your spouse’s name, your name or both names. Get a credit report and check it periodically.
• Add an indemnity clause to your divorce settlement agreement if needed.
• Make sure debt your spouse is ordered to pay is refinanced in your spouses’ name only