Joint Debts And Divorce

Q: I have an issue. I received an inheritance of a home from my grandmother during my marriage. It was intermingled into our marital property. I then was sued for the home by family members and lost the suit. I had to file bankruptcy and am now paying back $30,000 to the family.

In the meantime, my husband and I got divorced. Should my ex-husband pay for half of the $30,000 I owe since the inheritance was co-mingled into our marital property and had to be given back? He is paying nothing and I don’t understand the law regarding this issue.

A: You should really speak to an attorney about this issue. Still, here are some general thoughts to keep in mind.

When someone who is married receives an inheritance, it is possible to keep that asset separate from the rest of the marital assets by keeping it in the name of the heir alone. With real estate, it’s easy to do because you simply keep everything about that property separate – title, income from the property, and any funds realized by its sale.

For example, let’s say you inherited a house from your grandmother and you decided to sell it. If you received $30,000 from the sale and wanted to keep that separate from your marital assets, you would have opened up an account under your name alone and deposited those assets there.

By co-mingling the property, the funds became a marital asset. Your ex-husband might have benefited from those funds, but the real issue is whether your liability becomes his liability in the divorce. Likewise, if you comingled the funds and then got divorced, would your spouse have a claim against those comingled funds?

The answer to your question will be based on the specific laws of the state in which you are located relating to the inheritance and how the liabilities of one spouse might become liabilities of the other spouse.

Keep in mind if you and your ex-husband owned a home together and the loan for that home was in both of your names, you would both continue to be liable for that debt. If each of you had your own credit cards, you might be responsible for your credit card debt and he might be responsible for his.

The question you need to answer is this: if your inheritance benefited your ex-spouse, shouldn’t he have to repay his share once the inheritance turned into a liability? The short answer is maybe.

The time to have brought this up was in your divorce settlement. You should speak to your divorce attorney to see if you can revisit this issue, or if it is too late. If the judgment for the amount owed came after the divorce, it might be too late to revisit the issue and you may be stuck with the responsibility to repay the entire sum.


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