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Dividing debt in divorce: The choices you make matter

During a divorce, you already know that you'll have to divide your assets. However, one thing some people overlook is the fact that they may also need to divide certain debts.

Debts come in many forms, from mortgages to credit-card bills. How you split these debts may vary widely from how other couples choose to do so, since they are so specific to your situation. However, Ohio is an equitable distribution state, which is something you have to keep in mind.

As an equitable distribution state, Ohio's laws allow debts to be divided equitably (or fairly) depending on the situation. This is in contrast to a community property state, where each spouse would be burdened with 50% of the marital debts.

Is the equitable distribution of debts better?

It can be. Consider this situation: You've supported your spouse while they went to school, and they took on considerable student loans. You paid a portion of the tuition, but the debts are high and were created during your marriage. In a community property state, those debts may be considered shared, and you might have to pay half. In Ohio, you could argue that the loans are not for your benefit and ask to leave those debts for your spouse to pay off on their own.

Equitable distribution rules try to make things fairer by allowing debts and assets to be split in a way that both parties agree on. If you paid for everything in your marriage, you may think it makes more sense to walk away with a greater number of assets, and that's what an equitable distribution law sometimes allows you to do. Similarly, it can help you leave your marriage with fewer debts than your spouse.

What should you do to determine who pays which debts?

If you and your spouse want to divide your debts fairly, then you should sit down and talk to one another about which debts you built up individually and which debts are truly shared. If one spouse, for example, has several credit cards used for their own needs, then those likely should remain in their name. If there are debts that resulted from repairing your family home or buying shared items, then those debts should be shared fairly.

Every situation is different, so it's worth discussing your debts and considering negotiating with your spouse to work out a solution that is best for your future.

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Rising Star Susan M. Suriano WBA OHIO Women's Bar Association Woman Lawyer of Franklin County Young Leaders of Licking County

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