I met Hank this morning at the local coffee shop next to the courthouse where all the lawyers go. He ordered a cherry Danish and I ordered a blueberry muffin. Hank was worried about a mediation he had that morning. He represented the wife.
“The husband has a $100,000 pension and $100,000 in marital debt, “ Hank informed me as he blew on his coffee to cool it. “So he is basically broke. He’s offering to take over all the marital debt if the wife will let him keep his pension. I’m thinking that is a fair deal but I wanted to run it by you to see what you think.”
“I have some questions about the marital debt,” I said, unwrapping my muffin. Whose name is it in and what form is it in and what was it used to buy?”
Hank explained, “the debt is on three credit card accounts in the husband’s name and it was used for marital expenses, like rent, food and so forth.”
“It’s a good thing you represent the wife then,” I said as I sipped my coffee.
“Because someone is going to have to tell the husband the bad news. Not all debts are marital. Marital debt in Maryland means a debt directly traceable to the acquisition of marital property. His credit card debt was used to buy consumables and there is no marital property from which to subtract it. The court can’t change who owes the credit card companies, and so the judge is going to leave that debt in the husband’s name. And the court can still divide the pension plan because that is marital property to the extent it was earned during the marriage.”
“Wow,” said Hank. “You’ve just given me some powerful ammunition for my mediation. For that advice, I’ll pick up the check. But you leave the tip.”