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.

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