California is a community property state, and thus in general all assets acquired by a couple during their marriage are deemed to be equally owned by each spouse and subject to equal division during a divorce. This general principle applies to debts that the couple acquired during their marriage as well. These obligations can include credit cards, mortgage payments and medical expenses, and they can change the financial consequences of a divorce radically.
In the absence of a property division agreement, the court will look at credit card accounts to see whose name the account was under. In the case of a mortgage on the couple’s principal residence, it will often follow the person who ends up with the home, typically the parent who is given primary physical custody. In other cases, the parties can choose to sell the home and divide up the equity accordingly.
Medical bills may be the least understood, because California’s community property laws extend to these as well. These are usually divided along with the rest of the couple’s assets and debts, which could leave the lower-earning spouse at a significant disadvantage if the other spouse defaults on payments.
A person whose marriage is ending and who is contemplating or facing divorce proceedings may wish to speak with a family law attorney in order to determine how best to approach the subject of the division of assets and liabilities. In some cases, it may be advisable to have legal counsel attempt to negotiate a comprehensive settlement agreement that includes a provision dealing with this issue as well as with other matters such as spousal support.