California is a community property state, meaning any debt acquired during a marriage must be equally divided between the spouses upon a divorce. So regardless of any agreement you may have made in your divorce decree, there is always the possibility that your ex won't pay their fair share of your joint debt—and that can be a big problem.

So, what do you do?

Pay the Debt Anyway to Protect Your Credit and Seek Reimbursement

Creditors aren't interested in your divorce; if your name is on the account, they consider you liable for the debt. This puts you in a terrible position—the creditor does not care and probably won't make any concessions to help your situation.

In this case, it might be best to think about the longer-term priority—your credit. Though it may be difficult to swallow, paying the debt your partner won't pay might be the wisest move.

With any luck, you can convince your ex-spouse to reimburse you for the payment. Of course, there is no guarantee they will comply, but it is always worth the effort.

Litigate Against Your Ex-Spouse

If the debt is large enough, or you are determined to make your point, it may be worth the attorney’s fees to litigate against your ex-spouse to recoup your out-of-pocket expenses. The thought of hiring a lawyer to defend himself/herself might be enough to persuade your ex-spouse to pay you back.

Litigation can be time-consuming and costly for both sides, so ensure you are fully prepared to follow through on this move. The divorce itself is often emotionally taxing. Be sure you are prepared to go through court proceedings again.

Preventative Measures

If possible, the best time to settle a mutual debt is before the divorce decree is final. Paying off the debt before finalizing the divorce takes any "deadbeat" concerns off the table.

Dissolving joint accounts before court proceedings is your best bet. In the case of credit card debt, you can cancel joint cards and transfer appropriate balances to cards in each spouse's name. Explore refinancing options for any house or car loans and put each of them in one person's name as you both see fit.

Park Family Law Can Help

Do you need help dealing with mutual debt before, during, or after your divorce? To help you obtain the best results for all the complicated aspects of property and asset division during a divorce, call the attorneys at Park Family Law.

Whether you need an experienced mediator to amicably and efficiently settle your case or an aggressive litigator to get you the best results in court, Park Family Law can assist you every step of the way.