Divorce decreeOne of the most difficult issues for divorcing couples in Illinois is how to handle the debt that has been accumulated during the marriage. It is definitely not as simple as “handing it off” to one party or the other.

While a divorce can allocate debt between both parties, it cannot change existing contracts with third-party creditors such as a mortgage lender or a credit card company. For example, the court could assign $25,000 of credit card debt to the husband, but if this was a joint account the wife is still liable for that debt should the husband fail to make payments.

In other words, someone still has to assume responsibility for the debt regardless of the divorce.


There are generally three ways to resolve debt issues in a divorce:

  • Pay off the debt
  • Refinance the debt
  • Sell the property to pay off the debt

A key step prior to finalizing a divorce is for both parties to determine whether either party can quality for a new mortgage, a refinance loan or a personal loan to handle any existing debt. Whoever cannot qualify will then know it’s not worth the time and court costs to fight for a certain asset such as the house or car since they cannot pay for it.

In situations where couples cannot refinance or pay off debt for certain property, a court will often order the sale of that property rather than create an alternative since the ultimate goal of divorce is to sever all property interests and liabilities between the parties.


In some cases, neither party can maintain or refinance the debt nor sell off the property. When this happens it’s important to develop a feasible payment plan to potentially prevent either party from being sued or to keep their credit history from being harmed due to non-payment.

An experienced divorce attorney or mediator can help parties develop these payment plans when debt cannot be completely severed upon divorce. And if debt allocation is possible, divorce mediation allows parties to talk out issues around desired property and what–if anything–can be done to meet everyone’s needs.

Contact me for more information on using divorce mediation to resolve debt issues for your unique situation.


Erin_Birt_37032Illinois attorney Erin Birt is a skilled legal professional with over ten years of experience in trial and divorce law serving clients in many DuPage County cities including Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Naperville, Warrenville and Winfield.

She opened the Law Firm of Erin Birt, P.C. in 2010 to offer her clients alternative divorce resolution services, specialized collaborative divorce options and family law expertise. She and her expert team continually develop creative outcomes such divorce mediation and family law mediation that work for all parties involved, particularly children.

Ms. Birt holds a J.D. from DePaul College of Law and is a member of the Collaborative Practice Professionals of Illinois, the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the DuPage County Bar Association.