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“My name is on the bank account that I accrued during the marriage so if I got divorced, my husband wouldn’t get it. She charged $40,000.00 on credit cards only in her name for stuff I never approved: fancy clothes, purses, etc. It is ruining my marriage. I want to get divorced. Shouldn’t she have to pay for it because I just learned about it and it’s in her name?”

“My husband managed the finances. He had “a lot of money” in his name which he used for our joint living expenses. He now says there is nothing left. He never notified me he was using all the money. I would have told him to cut back. Shouldn’t he have to pay for using all the money and not telling me?”

The above statements are extremely common in divorce. They can be the basis for long protracted litigation in a divorce case. In a marriage, as in life, we all have to take certain responsibility even when we don’t want to. Then there are times when we have responsibility to protect ourselves.

Divorce Court is a court of “legal equity”. It is not a Court of morality. According to the law, if an asset or debt is acquired during the course of the marriage, no matter whose name is on the asset or debt, the divorce court usually still makes it joint property or debt to be split 50/50. The irresponsible behavior of a spouse with debt or keeping money separate from you is typically not corrected by the Court. Sometimes it is weighted in your favor, but rarely are you brought back to the original position except in unusual circumstances. It feels terrible and wrong, but it is the real truth in divorce.

A divorce is a partnership. If one partner messes things up, both partners are affected.

Interestingly enough, the rules are quite opposite in debtor/creditor law and bankruptcy law. Just because parties are married does not mean that individual debts are both parties’ legal responsibility. Certainly such debt problems affect the family but not the same way. In bankruptcy court, what counts is whose name is on the debt or asset. You cannot commit fraud and switch things around in preparation for bankruptcy, but both parties don’t have to have their assets and credit affected by a bankruptcy or collection action affecting one party.

Very intelligent, business savvy couples that plan for life’s ups and downs often separate their assets and debts from the get go. If one person loses his/her job and/or credit because of unfortunate circumstances, the other person’s credit is still good and can help to carry the family until recuperation occurs.

Life brings ups and downs, sometimes in divorce, sometimes with debt. Rules vary from one courthouse to another. With the information provided, we hope that you can bounce back quickly from life’s unpredictable setbacks.

Tanya N. Helfand, Esq. is a Certified Matrimonial lawyer practicing for 23 years. She also has been practicing bankruptcy law for over 15 years and is a member of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.

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    Our Offices
    • Whippany Office
      575 Route 10 East
      Suite 1
      Whippany, New Jersey 07981
      Phone: 973-428-0800
      Fax: 973-428-0830
    • New York Office
      420 Lexington Ave.
      New York, New York 10170
      Phone: 646-213-9053
    • "Without Tanya and her time, the really unpleasant experience of getting divorced would have been even worse. They were able to settle the matter very quickly and helped me fit this into my tight schedule allowing me to leave to move abroad for my dissertation research on time without having to delay the trip because of the divorce. They also did all of it within my very tight budget. Thank you so much for your help and dedication to my legal matter!"  - AG

    • "Tanya and her Associates are outstanding! What I admire most about Tanya is her knowledge of the law with her keen negotiation skills to foster mediation. Her strategies efficiently resolve conflict leading to the resolution of cases. She and her team have an outstanding work ethic, know what data are needed, and get the job done. It is a pleasure to work with such wonderful professionals."  - Tara, Whippany

    • "I found Ms. Helfand's knowledge and tenacity most reassuring during the ordeal of my divorce. She was steadfast in her guidance and was very effective in her negotiations on my behalf. I would recommend her without a second thought. "  -Jonathan

    • "Ms. Helfand was very professional and helpful with our bankruptcy case. Her advice was very useful and helped us make the proper decisions for our situation. In addition, she was very supportive during a very difficult time for us. Finally, she set very specific fee expectations and there were no surprises when it was completed. I would use her services again and would recommend her, without question."

    • "She is Incredible, very quick responding to the other party. Very professional and courteous. I highly recommend her. She has a great passion and love for every single case."

    • "Tanya and her team were very professional handling my divorce proceedings. She was very proactive in making the other attorney finally get the process moving forward. I would recommend her to anyone looking for legal services. "  -Scott

    • "Ms. Helfand strategized & processed, both, my Divorce & Chapter 13 Bankruptcy. As both cases were emotionally and legally challenging, Ms. Helfand proved to be an empowering Mentor along the path to clarity for which I am truly grateful. I highly recommend her legal expertise to anyone who is seeking a confident, savvy & caring attorney to become at peace with self and any legal matters."  -Vas

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