Unreasonable Marital Debt: When Only One Spouse Is Liable

A common question our lawyers receive is the extent to which one spouse is responsible for the debts of the other after the spouses separate. This can be a significant issue when an angry or irresponsible spouse racks up debt either to spite the other spouse or in spite of the other spouse’s interest.

Generally speaking, courts divide the debts of the parties similarly to the way they divide assets. First, they identify the debts, then they classify the debts as either separate or marital. Lastly, they divide the debt.

The far majority of debts are considered marital debt for which both parties are responsible. You may read more about the assignment of debt in a dissolution proceeding at our earlier blog here.

However, there is a significant exception for debt that qualifies as “unreasonable” under New Mexico law:

The court, at the time of the final decree of dissolution of marriage, may declare, as between the parties, a debt to be unreasonable if it was incurred by a spouse while the spouse was living apart and the debt did not contribute to the benefit of both spouses or their dependents.

This is a narrow exception that applies only when the following criteria are met:

  • The spouses were living apart when the debt was incurred.
  • The debt “did not contribute” to the community or to the parties’ children.

This is a hard standard to meet. However, it might apply, for example, if a spouse took a trip, ate out extensively, or otherwise incurred significant debt with nothing to show for it.

An experienced New Mexico family lawyer can help you understand what to expect during a divorce. If you have questions, contact the Lightning Legal Group. We know that many questions arise when you’re navigating sensitive family issues, and we’ll help you find your way. Contact us today at (505) 247-2390 for experienced legal advice.


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