If medical debt was incurred while the ailing spouse was married, chances are both parties will share responsibility for payment in a divorce settlement. The degree of responsibility will be determined by the state of residence at the time of the divorce. In community property states, debt usually is divided equally. In equitable distribution states, debts are divided based on the income and earning potential of each spouse.
All debt acquired during the course of the marriage is considered a joint debt unless one spouse can show that she had no knowledge of the debt and received no benefit from it. However, medical debt incurred during a marriage is always considered a joint debt regardless of whether you live in an equitable distribution or community property state. When paying joint debt after a divorce, keep an accurate record of all payments you make to the creditor as well as any documentation the creditor gives you stating the debt was paid in full.
Debt incurred prior to the marriage is the sole responsibility of the individual and is not considered a joint debt during the divorce. This is true in both community property and equitable distribution states. In some cases, spouses may have a difficult time distinguishing between individual and joint debt. For example, if your spouse has a medical procedure prior to your marriage and is paying the debt while continuing to incur new medical debt for additional procedures, it may be difficult to separate the individual debt and the joint debt. Contact the medical facility for a thorough review of the debt to determine what you are actually responsible for.
Debt During Separation
You may not share responsibility for medical debts incurred during a period of separation. If you have filed for legal separation from the courts, that decree can be used as proof that you are no longer responsible for medical expenses incurred by your spouse. If you do not have a separation decree, you must show the court you no longer resided in the same household. Leases and utility bills will meet this burden of proof. You will not be able to use this tactic if you and your spouse continue to share a home.
A divorce decree does not alter your legal obligations to the creditor, particularly if you signed documentation as the responsible party. Even after a divorce, a medical facility may attempt to collect the debt directly from you if it has done so in the past. You will need to work with the medical facility to ensure your responsibility is limited based on your state law.
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