After our recent post on this Dayton family law blog concerning the $10 million in debt that Mary J. Blige allegedly incurred during her marriage, some readers may have questions about what happens to debt at the end of a marriage. Just what does our state say about debt and divorce?

Generally, Ohio divorce courts divide assets and liabilities equitably. We discussed previously the principle that assets acquired during the course of a marriage are considered by the court “marital property,” i.e., jointly owned — not the sole property of one spouse. The law is clear on this point, but when it comes to the division of debt, it is not as clear. Judges have considerable leeway in how they handle the division of debt.

There are four main ways judges approach these situations. One is to simply split up debt between divorcing spouses equally, with each taking on half of the debt. Or, a judge may look at which spouse earns a greater income, and assign a proportionately greater share of the debt to that spouse, with less going to the lower earner — presumably reflecting the ability of each to pay. In some cases, a judge might look into which spouse actually incurred a particular debt and ascribe it entirely to that person. Finally, it is possible that the person whose name is on a credit card or similar account will end up saddled with all of the corresponding debt.

These are particularly important points when considering or going through a divorce in Dayton. One partner in a marriage might have a better credit rating and more available credit, and thus, take on the lion’s share of the debts.

But, one should not assume that a court will look at that debt the same way it looks at marital property, to be divided equally. A judge can divide marital debt in any number of ways, depending on the factors in a particular divorce. As this post is not intended as legal advice for any residents in a divorce, consulting an attorney is so important.