What is sexually transmitted debt? A divorce or property settlement has a number of factors that need to be taken into account for both couples who were married or in a de-facto relationship. When property is divided, it includes not just assets but liabilities as well. As long as people are liable for their partner’s debt because of marriage or a de facto relationship, sexually transmitted debt will be around.
The University of New South Wales’ Kirby Institute shows a troubling rise in many sexually transmitted infections according to its Annual Surveillance Report. Sexually transmitted infections can stay with you for a long time and be devastating to your health, future and relationships. Melissa Browne, chief executive of A&TA Accountants, said sexually transmitted debt can be just as long lasting and damaging as any sexually transmitted disease. Ms Browne said just as we should take precautions to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, we should be just as vigilant when it comes to sexually transmitted debt. She says, “It’s not necessarily malicious, but the end result is, whether or not the relationship has ended, you can end up with debt simply from being in that relationship.”
When we refer to debt as sexually transmitted debt, we are usually talking about a debt you become liable for as a result of your marital relationship, rather than a debt you take on consciously. It may come from a loan that you agreed to be guarantor on or a rental contract for your previously shared home, but there are other ways too.
Ms Browne tells the story of a couple who were in business together. The husband did the client facing work while his wife did the accounts.He assumed all the bills were being paid. He did not know that his wife had a gambling problem and was putting all their money through poker machines.The ignorance of his wife’s addiction did not save her husband. She was made bankrupt and he was close to following her as he struggled to find the money to pay the business’ debts. If this couple chooses to divorce, the debts still remain his to share – he too is liable because they were debts incurred during the relationship.
A marriage is viewed as an economic partnership. In Australian family law ignorance is often not accepted as an excuse and the court will consider debt reasonable unless you have sufficient evidence to prove otherwise. In figuring out divorce settlements or property disputes the court takes into account all of the information presented and then uses its discretion to decide the matter. All of the parties assets and liabilities are identified and considered. The court endeavours to make sure that the outcome is just and equitable, but this includes dividing any debt that remains that is considered to be legally shared by you.
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Of Australian couples who decide to end their marriages, 6% separate within the first year of marriage, 33% separate within the first five years of their marriage, and 22% separate within five to nine years of marriage. The remaining 59 per cent separate after 10 years. Many couples buy a home together (or sign a mortgage together) and when they separate it is not just the asset they share, but also the mortgage. Family law lawyer Cheryl Bentley, with Divorce Lawyers Brisbane, says “A mortgage is a shared debt, just as the house is a shared asset. Even if the debts are in only one name, if the debt is to support the family – such as a personal loan to buy a car or furniture – then it’s a shared debt.”
A mortgage is a fairly obvious shared debt, but what gets harder and takes some people by surprise is the hidden sexually transmitted debt. Women are more likely to get caught out by an ex-husband who doesn’t pay the shared utility bills. A study done by an Australian supplier of credit references, credit reports and Australian company reports, Veda Advantage, says 58% of utility bills (gas, electricity, water) are in the woman’s name. This is fine if the bills are paid off and the account is terminated once you separate, but if that’s not the case, even once everything’s settled, the default will go on your credit report as a black mark against you. It doesn’t get much better for men: 55% of loan defaults are by men, but if you’re their partner and have co-signed on the mortgage or you took out a contract for a mobile phone for them then, you will be sharing in the joy of having a financial institution chasing you for payments.
How To Protect Yourself Against Sexually Transmitted Debt
As much as is possible, you need to have open communication about finances with your spouse or ex-partner about your joint financial position. One of the hardest things about sexually transmitted debt is that it usually takes people by surprise. Stay engaged in your financial situation, rather than allowing the other person to do it all, and understand what assets and debts you have. Never sign anything that you don’t understand or that hasn’t been explained properly to you. Having a comprehensive understanding of your financial position as a couple will help to negate sexually transmitted debt, but it’s also what you do after you separate that will help to protect you.
If you have joint accounts, it’s best to close them once you’re separated and have your own account with your own income going into it. Even before you split, monitoring your joint accounts is a good idea. Ignorance is not your friend. It is best to have a property settlement finalised as soon as possible, to reduce the opportunity of incurring more sexually transmitted debt before the divorce is granted.
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Separating out your finances as much as possible is a good idea so that you are paying for your choices and your ex-spouse is paying for theirs. See your bank so that overdrafts or any significant loan changes can only be made if both of you agree and sign on loans for which you share responsibility. If you are worried about bank accounts with significant funds in them suddenly being drained, speak to your bank about freezing the account until the property settlement is finalised.
At Divorce Lawyers Brisbane, we understand that this is often a stressful and emotional time for you. We are experienced in helping our clients with their divorce settlements. Please contact us today for a free, 10-minute phone consultation with one of our experienced family lawyers.