As the song has it, “Money changes everything.” Without a doubt, one of the most frequent causes of divorce is financial discord between the partners. One or both spouses’ debt may become unmanageable, whether through indulgence or carelessness, or through unfortunate circumstances beyond one’s control. As the mountain of debt soars higher, personal and marital stress may also increase, leading to partners deciding to part ways.

As you no doubt have seen, whether in personal experience or in the movies, much of divorce proceedings may focus on property division, but debt division can be equally contentious, especially where two marital partners are equally responsible for the debt, even if that debt was incurred by only one of the spouses. So what happens in divorce? Generally, debt is divided in the same manner as assets; that is, the court aims for equitable division of debt.

Thus, debt that is acquired during the marriage (and possibly leading up to the marriage) will be equally divided….maybe. Many factors come into play, and you should most definitely discuss your unique circumstances with a qualified divorce attorney. For example, a short-term marriage may not hew to this rule of thumb. Other exceptions include cases where one spouse garners debt through spending money on an extramarital affair, where the other spouse should not be obligated to repay that debt, or where one spouse has a gambling habit and has gambled his or her way deep into debt (however, if the other spouse had knowledge of the gambling habit, and benefited therefrom when the first spouse was winning, a judge may find that the debt should be divided equally between the partners).

These are but a few examples. As a very complex and vital area in a potential divorce proceeding, the only good advice is to seek the counsel of a qualified divorce lawyer to examine your circumstances in depth.