Ask A Lawyer: How Do You Deal With Debt in Divorce?


I owned everything prior to our two year marriage, including the house, my own car, my own furniture… everything. We both worked, but I paid all the bills and she contributed nothing. She had her own job, checking account,  car, and even an accountant. We never even filed together.

She never used my last name on anything except for a 30K loan we took out that I have to now pay for. She has since moved out and secured her own place, while refusing to give me a divorce until I remove her name from our loan.

I can’t refinance now, borrow any money, or afford a lawyer any longer. How do I deal with this?



You advise that you can not afford a lawyer any longer.  If the debts and assets are significant to you, you should consider whether you can afford to continue without a lawyer.   If the only issue is the thirty thousand dollar loan, resolving the allocation of the debt and entry of the divorce may be a relatively simple matter which a lawyer can conclude at a reasonable cost.  Conversely, staying married to avoid the cost of getting divorced may result in financial complications caused by future debts or changes of income of either party, at greater expense than the cost of the divorce. 

The purposes for which the loan was used and the law of your state will affect how the loan is allocated in the divorce.  However, your divorce only controls how the debt is resolved between you and your wife.  The debt instrument with the lender controls the lender’s options for collection.  Even if your wife is to pay some or all of the debt, the lender may still seek collection from you in the event of non-payment.  Some lenders will remove one spouse from a joint debt without refinancing under certain circumstances; however the lender may prefer to keep both parties liable to assure payment.  There may also be tax issues related to the debt, depending upon the specifics of the debt.  Therefore, you would be well advised to consult an experience family law attorney promptly as to resolving the debt and obtaining the divorce.


Richard Coffee is a Litigation Manager in the Belleville Illinois office of Cordell & Cordell. He is an experienced divorce attorney whose practice is devoted to domestic litigation. He is licensed in the State of Illinois and is admitted to practice law in the U.S. District Courts for Northern, Central and Southern Illinois.

Mr. Coffee has extensive domestic litigation trial experience representing clients in courts throughout Illinois on all aspects of domestic litigation, including the representation of clients who are current or retired military personnel with issues under the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act and the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act, clients involved in state court jurisdictional disputes due to the relocation of one or both parties from or to Illinois, and clients with government or private pension benefit valuation and division issues. 

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