Debts: Husbands and Wives 21

Your Debt Related Responsibilities As A Spouse

When you’re single and you assume a debt such as a loan or credit card, that debt belongs to you and no one else.

But what happens when you’re married?

In general, you are always responsible for any debt you co-signed for. Married couples frequently open joint credit card accounts, sign mortgages and buy cars together, with both the husband and wife signing the applications and other necessary forms. This would make both parties equally responsible for the debt, even if they did not equally share in the benefits.

For example, if a couple purchases a car together but only the wife drives it, the husband still shares in the responsibility for the debt. Likewise, if both parties open a credit card together but only the husband uses it, the wife is still legally liable for the debt.

In some states, the law also requires both spouses to be responsible for debts incurred in support of the family’s household. Often referred to as the “family expense statute”, these laws require that the husband and the wife equally share in debts such as doctor bills and charges for groceries, electricity and the like. Many states also impose this kind of inferred responsibility, even if a statute is not in place.

States that have community property laws in place often hold both parties responsible for each other’s debts created during the marriage , regardless of whether both signed on the account.

As a general rule, any debts created prior to the marriage are not typically treated as a shared debt between spouses however, there are a few exceptions. Some states allow certain debts to collect against marital property, even if the spouse was not technically responsible for the debt. That means that a judgment or lien could be placed against property and/or assets owned by both parties to satisfy a debt incurred by one of the spouses prior to marriage.


  • User

    My wife and I were married overseas and then I came to the US on a Spouse (K-3) Visa. I got my Green Card a few months after I arrived in the US. We had a child here and lived together as a family for 4 years. After I had tax returns for 3 years, I filed for citizenship and got it. During the time my citizenship was in process things between my wife (who sponsored me being a born citizen) and I deteriorated and she returned to our home country with our child. She repeatedly asked for a divorce but I stalled it hoping that she would return and things would get patched up. Seeing no budging from her side, I returned to our home country and filed for divorce and child custody there. Both the divorce and child custody cases are in process over there. What are my rights as a US citizen to protect myself and my child who is with her? Also she financed a car in her name here when we were together. I have been making payments of that car all along but stopped paying now. Am I liable for the debt she has incurred or is it her own debt? We do not have any credit cards together….only her. I have my own credit cards now. Please advice on financial implications and how can my immigration/citizenship issues are affected by this divorce. Thank you.

  • Denise

    I want to get a divorce, however, our home has no equity and cannot even be sold or refinanced for the amount we owe; if I want to give him the home, can I get my name removed from the mortgage somehow without him having to refinance?

  • Missy

    My husband and I have been legally separated since June 2010. My husband owed for some back procedures he had done. The company withdrew the money that he owed from my checking account, without contacting me. Only comment from my ex was well I will see if I can pay you $5.00 a month, he earns more than I do and I am trying to get my life back together. My ex cashes his paycheck will not open any bank account, Iam saving up some money to apply for a divorce and this withdrawal has set me back.

  • robert kenney

    in colo is the wife also responsiable for the husbans debts. both are still married and living together. all the assets are in her name. IF HE OWS $ IS SHE ALSO A PARTY IN HIS DEBT

  • mary

    During a legal separation my spouse ran up huge unsecured debts and is now facing bankruptcy. we have resolved our problems with the marriage. do I have to file bankrupcy with him. as in washington state is a no fault state. his debts were personal debts

  • Pat

    If 2 people get married in Jefferson County, Kentucky, both at the time of the debt, were working, and the wife goes out and finances a car on her own, by the job she has, to pay for the car. The car down payment was pushed through by taking her trade in, and the dealer put the amount owed on the old car, on the new car, and she drove the new car off the lot.

    Now, the lady is in jail, serving time over other personal things, and the collection people for the dealership are calling the husband wanting payments on the car. She has also lost her good paying job, preventing her from paying the payments. Her husband is the only one working at this time, with 4 kids at home, one is autistic.

    The question is, by Kentucky Law, is this lady’s husband responsible for his wife’s debt on this car????? Will his wages be affected by garnishment?????

    Please, any information would be so appreciated.


    • Matt

      No. He’s not responsible unless his name is on the loan. Debt collectors are very restricted these days in what they can do to collect. Read the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
      This protects debtors better than they probably deserve. And certainly protects someone who’s not on the loan.

  • Louisiana man

    Im a disabled man with a severe heart condition. My wife of ten years just up and left me for a close aquaintance of mine. They have been having an affair for sometime. She has traded in the vehicle i bought her for a new one and a car note shes asking me to pay. She wants all decor in the hm i built. And half of the homes worth. She never worked one day of our marriage

    • Penny

      I wouldnt think she would be entitled to anything due to she commited adultery. I would think you will be able to get everything and even get the vehicle, or make sure your not liable for it. Take her for everything and dont let her have anything. Get you a good lawyer it might cost you but she dont deserve nothing if you was a good husband just because you was sick and she cheated thats just a sorry ass woman.

  • My husband prior to marriage gave me 40k to pay off debt I have paid him back most of it. He did a prenup before we got married saying that if I ever left I had to pay him 40k. Could this be challenged in court in Maryland.

  • Joe Albright

    if me and my girlfriend get married will my debt become hers , I would really like to know because I have found the woman of my dreams and I do not want to bring her down because of my debt.

  • Nikol Lee Wise

    I am getting a divorce over tension with my husbands ex wife and his non stop court and motions and arrearages… and now custody… the woman does not stop and will not work for a living, I on the other have worked two jobs for the last 16 years. They were divorced in 2002. He was ordered to pay her over $17000.00 in medical arrearages (her mom is loaded and they had a good Lawyer) starting on 08/2009 I wrote 85% of the 37 payments to her, can I ask for 37 payments of half back as spousal maintenance?

    • Matt

      Yes. Speaking as an attorney, but without giving you legal advice, I say ask for whatever you want. You will undoubtedly need an attorney to succeed. A lot of it could depend on your husband’s income versus yours. Also depends on how hard you want to fight it versus what settlement he would agree to. A contested divorce could cost you more in legal fees than you’d be willing pay with the risk of losing on the spousal maintenance issue.

  • sharon

    my husband had me finance a car in my name as my credit was much better than his little did I know he was already having an affair and was planning to leave me when he asked me to do this , he is now living in an apartment and gives me the car payment money 1 a month . My car a surburban is on it’s last legs but because I have his 34000 loan in my name I cant qualify for a new car loan and he is going to take 5 years to pay it off , I want it out of my name but if I call the car company for the car I finaced for him and try to give it back wont that damage my credit

  • Kerri-Ann

    I’m helping a friend who’s just exhausted by all this. She’s Australian.
    She married a US citizen in 2005 (Montana). He’s early 50s, she’s late 40s. During their marriage they bought a house together.
    She learnt he has significant credit cards debts accrued mainly prior to, but possible during, the marriage.
    They separated and she left the US and returned home in 2009
    She is filing for divorce in the Australian family law system which has jurisdiction.
    She wishes simply to transfer her share of the house and the debt to the husband with no further recourse to any other asset or liability – with the exception of the return of some already identified personal possessions.
    How can this be done the most simply and cost efficiently?

  • pg

    Can a ex wife hold a legal wife for husbands debt that she payed after she married him .Such as funeral bills for him and housing ,taxes ,food.

  • April R

    I have a question about PA marriage law. If a husband and wife do not have joint accounts, and the wife’s name is not on the husband’s house and his name on hers, is she responsible for any debts accord in the husband’s house caused by the husband’s evicted tenants?

    My mom and step-father, who do not have joint accounts, but do live together in my mother’s house (She is paying for it herself and bought it several years before she married him) and his name is not on her house or her on his that is being repossessed by the bank because he is unable to work and pay for it, got a notice that her water would be turned off if she did not pay off a water bill debt that is mostly likely caused by tenants that were evicted from my stepfather’s house, as they are the last people to live in that house, not my mom or stepdad. She had to pay via credit card to keep her water on. I’m sorry for this long post, but does the water company or debt collectors have the right to harass my mom?

  • Sarah C

    I have student loans (still in my maiden name) that were debts I had before my husband and I got married. We live in Florida(if that matters at all). I have been out of work since we had our oldest and try as I might cannot seem to find a job no matter how many I apply to and interview for. I have contacted my student loan(Sallie Mae) company and worked with them for forbearance etc since being released from my job almost 4 years ago. I was advised today that even though my husband’s name is no where on the loan and it was taken out before we married or even met that if they decided to garnish wages, since I have no income they could garnish his even though his name is not on the loan anywhere. They said that in the eyes of the law since we are married my debts are his and therefore they can garnish his wages and income taxes. Is this true? From what I have found thus far, they can’t touch his income if his name is not listed as the co-signer/co-borrower. Can they touch his income?

  • Megan

    I have a situation where the parents are married, but do not live together. The mother took out a second mortgage after maxing out all the credit cards. The husband and sons are paying off her credit card debt and the mortgage, yet she is neglecting to make payments. Is there anything they can do to hold her legally liable at all without a divorce?? This is in Massachusetts.

  • Dbow

    I just married this week. When we got home he received a letter from state tax revenue stating that he owed back taxes. My question is can they seize my personal bank account?

  • heather

    can my soon to be ex husband get my car in the divorce if he is the co signer