How New Jersey law addresses family debt during divorce

Understanding the Division of Family Debt in New Jersey Divorce Cases

When couples in New Jersey decide to divorce, one of the most contentious issues they face is the division of marital debts. The state's approach to handling family debt during divorce proceedings is designed to be equitable, meaning that the goal is to achieve a fair distribution rather than an equal one. New Jersey operates under an Equitable Distribution Law, which governs how both assets and debts are divided upon divorce.

Under New Jersey Statutes Annotated (N.J.S.A.) 2A:34-23, the court considers multiple factors when dividing debt. These include the duration of the marriage, the income or property brought into the marriage by each party, and the standard of living established during the marriage, among others. The economic circumstances of each party at the time the division of property becomes effective also play a crucial role. Moreover, any increase in value of separate properties will be considered if commingled with marital assets.

Debts accumulated during the marriage are presumed to be the responsibility of both spouses and are usually split accordingly. This includes mortgages, credit card debts, and loans. However, if one party can provide evidence that certain debts were incurred by the other spouse for non-marital purposes – such as gambling or an extramarital affair – that portion of debt may be assigned to the responsible party.

Historically, there have been landmark cases that have helped shape how debt is treated in New Jersey divorces. For example, in Savarese v. Corcoran, it was held that marital lifestyle plays a significant role in determining how debts are allocated. If a couple lived beyond their means during the marriage, this fact may influence debt division upon divorce.

Another important consideration is whether a debt is categorized as 'marital' or 'separate.' Marital debts are those incurred by either or both parties during the marriage and up to the date of filing for divorce. Separate debts refer to those accrued before marriage or after filing for divorce. In some cases, however, separate debt can become marital if it was used for marital purposes or both spouses benefited from it.

For example, if one spouse takes out a personal loan prior to marriage but uses it to renovate a shared home, that debt may be considered marital and subject to division. Conversely, if one spouse accrues significant credit card debt without the other's knowledge or for non-marital purposes, they may be solely responsible for it.

In conclusion, understanding how New Jersey law treats family debt during divorce is crucial for anyone going through this process. While courts strive for fairness, each case is unique and requires careful consideration of all factors involved. Seeking advice from a legal professional who specializes in family law can help protect your interests and ensure an equitable outcome.