Fast. Fair. Thorough.

My ex bought a new car and went on vacation during our divorce. Am I responsible for the debt?

A trip to a tropical island or ski chalet. A fancy new sports car. Plastic surgery. These are just a few examples of extravagant spending that can occur during a divorce. Those who are going through a divorce and see their future ex making these choices may have concerns. Who pays those bills? Am I still on the hook?

These concerns are valid and can lead to some contentious divorce battles. The answer will vary depending on the details of the situation and where you live. Although the following does not provide exact answers, it can help you get a better understanding of how the law generally works. It is important to note that the information based in this post is focused on California law, as state law guides these discussions.

Am I responsible for debt incurred during the divorce?

Possibly. California courts generally consider both spouses liable for debt incurred during the marriage. The courts do not consider debt separate or the responsibility of one party until after the date of separation.

When is the date of separation?

The courts define the date of separation as the day one spouse lets the other know of the intention to end the marriage. It is important that the spouse’s actions after that day support this intention. If their actions are inconsistent and signal an intent to remain in the marriage, the court is unlikely to recognize the given date as the official date of separation.

The courts generally will not consider any loans taken after the official date of separation as community property. Instead, these debts are likely classified as separate property. This means the debt belongs to the individual and is not marital property subject to division during divorce.

How do I establish a date of separation?

With this in mind, the date of separation is clearly important. There are various pieces of evidence that can help to establish the official date of separation. Some examples can include:

  • Housing. It is helpful to have physical separation, or living in different homes, immediately following the date of separation. In some cases, the court may accept sleeping in separate areas of the same home.
  • Documentation. It can also help to have an email or note that specifically states the intention to divorce as of the given date.

Although these forms of evidence help, issues can remain. This is a complicated area of family law, especially in California. It is also important to note that there are special rules for different types of debt, like student loans. As such, it is often wise to seek legal counsel to discuss these differences to get a better idea of how the law will impact your specific situation.