Am I Responsible for My Spouse’s Medical Bills when We Divorce?

Utah is what’s called an “equitable division of the debts” state. Equitable means fair, and Utah courts have interpreted fair to mean 50/50, unless there are circumstances that necessitate something different.

One of the most common debts couples have to divide in divorce is medical bills. Medical insurance is expensive, and medical bills, even if you have insurance, can break the bank. Because this type of debt is so common, we often have people ask us something like this: is medical debt incurred for one spouse a marital debt that will be split in divorce?

To answer this question, we first have to see what Utah law says about marital debt. Utah Code, Section 30-2-9 reads:

(1) The expenses of the family and the education of the children are chargeable upon the property of both spouses or of either of them separately, for which expenses they may be sued jointly or separately.

. . . .

(4) For the purposes of this section, family expenses are considered expenses incurred that benefit and promote the family unit. Items purchased pursuant to a written contract or agreement during the marriage that do not relate to family expenses are not covered by this section.

So, family expenses are joint (i.e., 50/50) expenses, and family expenses are those incurred to “benefit and promote the family unit.” It’s hard to imagine how most medical treatment wouldn’t fall under benefitting and promoting the family.

The Utah Supreme Court has talked about this very question, and has said: “It is well established that the costs of . . . medical services . . . are family expenses for which both spouses are liable.” Outsource Receivables Mgmt. v. Bishop, 2015 UT App 41, ¶ 4, 344 P.3d 1167, (quoting N.A.R., Inc. v. Elmer, 2006 UT App 293, ¶ 4 n.2, 141 P.3d 606).

So, yes, without much doubt, medical expenses are marital debt. Now, in the law there are exceptions to every rule, and here it is no different.

Think about a situation in which a spouse has an affair, contracts an S.T.D., and needs medical treatment. That cheated-on spouse will almost certainly not be on the hook for the cheater’s treatment.

So, while there are some limited exceptions, the rule is medical treatment will be divided evenly between people getting divorced in Utah.

Published On: January 8th, 2016Categories: DebtComments Off on Am I Responsible for My Spouse’s Medical Bills when We Divorce?
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About the Author: Marco Brown
Marco C. Brown was named Utah’s Outstanding Family Law Lawyer of the Year in 2015. He graduated with distinction from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 2007 and is currently the managing partner of Brown Family Law, LLC.
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