Divorce can be a complex and emotionally charged process, particularly when it comes to the division of marital debt. In Ohio, as in many states, debt acquired during the marriage is typically considered marital property and is subject to division between the spouses upon divorce. The guiding principle in Ohio for dividing debts (and assets) is equitable distribution, which means the court will attempt to divide debts fairly, though not necessarily equally.
Ohio courts will first classify debts as either marital or separate. Marital debts are those incurred during the marriage and for the benefit of the marriage. These can include credit card debts, mortgages, car loans, and medical bills. Separate debts, on the other hand, are those that were acquired before the marriage or after the separation. They can also include debts incurred during the marriage if they were for the benefit of one spouse exclusively and did not support the marital lifestyle.
Once debts have been classified, courts will then distribute them equitably. Several factors are considered when dividing marital debt, such as each spouse's income and earning potential, who incurred the debt and why, who benefited from incurring the debt, and each spouse’s separate assets.
For example, if one spouse took out a loan to finance a business that only they operated and benefited from financially, the court might deem this to be a separate debt. Conversely, if a credit card was used by both spouses for everyday living expenses, it would likely be considered marital debt and divided between both parties.
An important historical reference that has influenced modern divorce law was the landmark case of 'Marx v. Marx' in 1987 which helped to solidify Ohio’s stance on equitable distribution. This case highlighted that equitable does not always mean equal and set a precedent for future divorce cases in Ohio.
In some instances, spouses may come to an agreement on their own regarding how to divide their debts. They can do this through negotiations or with the help of a mediator. If they reach an agreement, they can present it to the court for approval. However, if they cannot agree, then the court will make a determination based on equitable distribution principles.
It's also worth noting that even if a debt is assigned to one spouse during a divorce proceeding, creditors are not bound by this division. This means if both spouses' names are on a loan or credit account and one fails to pay, creditors can still pursue both parties for payment.
To ensure fair treatment during a divorce proceeding in Ohio when it comes to dividing debt, it is often advisable for individuals to seek legal counsel familiar with Ohio's laws and precedents.