Should I Pay Off Debts or Purchase Luxury Items prior to Filing for Divorce?

I recently received the following two questions from a prospective client.  It is something that comes up in many cases where the parties are trying to work out an agreement prior to filing for divorce, but there is a feeling like the the other spouse may just stop negotiating in good faith once he/she gets what they want.  So this is where the questions usually stems from:

  1. Is there any clear advantage/disadvantage to me paying off shared debt over the next few months, be it student loan, credit card, etc? I want to pay it down as quickly as possible but wasn’t sure if that could somehow work against me in an assets/liabilities kind of way.
  2. Should I refrain from purchasing anything that could be considered a “luxury” until we file? (e.g. TV, computer, etc.)

South Carolina Code §20-3-630(A) defines the term “marital property” as, “all real and personal property which has been acquired by the parties during the marriage and which is owned as of the date of filing or commencement of marital litigation…regardless of how legal title is held.”

In South Carolina, anything that is considered marital property that was purchased during the marriage and owned or owed as of the date of filing of your case can be divided by the Family Court.  So, if you pay off a bunch of debt prior to filing, you would be removing debts that could be shared between the two of you by the Court because they would no longer be owed as of the date of filing the marital litigation.  At the same time, even if you and your spouse have been separated for a while, anything you purchase prior to filing for divorce would be divisible by the court as marital property because it was purchased during the marriage, prior to the filing of marital litigation, and it doesn’t matter whose name is listed on the title of the property.

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