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Am I Responsible for My Spouse’s Debt?

Am I Responsible for My Spouse’s Debt?

by

JG Wentworth

July 8, 2024

8 min

Newly married millennial couple on cash with student debt graduation cap

When you said “I do” to your spouse, you likely weren’t thinking about potential debt ramifications down the road. Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that debt can often be a contentious issue for married couples – especially when it comes to whose obligation those liabilities really are. 

If you find yourself wondering whether you’re legally responsible for debts incurred by your spouse, either before or during the marriage, you’re not alone. This murky area of personal finance can stir up confusion, resentment and conflict if not properly understood. 

Let’s explore the various scenarios surrounding spousal debt obligation, what factors determine responsibility, and how to protect yourself from debt dramas with your partner. 

This information is provided for educational and informational purposes only. Such information or materials do not constitute and are not intended to provide legal, accounting, or tax advice and should not be relied on in that respect. We suggest that You consult an attorney, accountant, and/or financial advisor to answer any financial or legal questions. 

Understanding debt classifications 

Before we dive into spousal obligations, it’s important to understand how different types of debt are classified: 

  • Separate debt: Any debt incurred by either spouse before the marriage is considered separate debt belonging solely to that individual. Common examples include student loans, credit card balances, auto loans and mortgages. 

 

  • Joint debt: Any debt that is jointly held by both spouses is considered joint debt. This includes debts opened during the marriage where both names are on the accounts, such as joint credit cards, mortgages, loans, etc. 

 

  • Community debt: In certain states, debts incurred by either spouse during the marriage may be considered community debt that is owed jointly by the couple, regardless of whose name is on the accounts. 

 

  • Marital debt: Some states have the concept of marital debt, which may include debts incurred for certain purposes benefitting the marriage, such as medical bills, home repairs, etc. 

 

The vast majority of issues surrounding spousal debt obligation result from separate debts brought into the marriage versus debts jointly incurred together as a couple. 

 

Are you liable for your spouse’s separate debt? 

The short answer is generally no, you are not legally liable for debts your spouse incurred before your marriage in most states. Those remain their separate obligation that creditors cannot legally pursue you for. However, there are a few very important exceptions to be aware of: 

 

  • If you live in a community property state: In community property states (AZ, CA, ID, LA, NV, NM, TX, WA, WI), most debt accrued by either spouse during the marriage is automatically considered community debt that both spouses are liable for, regardless of whose name is attached. 

 

  • If you take joint legal action: If you make the unwise choice to refinance, consolidate or add your name to any of your spouse’s separate debt accounts, you instantly become legally liable for the obligation. 

 

  • If you reside in a marital debt state: A small number of states (MA, PA, etc.) consider certain categories of debt that benefitted the marriage (home repairs, child expenses, etc.) to be marital debt that both spouses share legal responsibility for. 

 

  • If the debt is used for necessities: In some circumstances, if your spouse’s separate debt was used to pay joint expenses like housing costs, utilities, food, etc., you could be on the hook based on your legal duty to support your spouse. 

 

Outside of those exceptions, your spouse’s separate debt remains their own obligation, not a shared legal liability that they can pass on to you.  

Guarding against spousal debt issues 

Even if you’re not legally liable for your spouse’s debt, ignoring or mishandling it can create huge financial headaches.  Here are some tips to protect yourself: 

  • Have open dialogues about debt: Openly discuss all outstanding debts you each carry before getting married and continue having transparent conversations about debts throughout your marriage. 

 

  • Avoid co-mingling debts: Never consolidate separate debts together or add your name to existing separate debts held only by your spouse. 

 

  • Establish separate credit: It’s wise to maintain separate credit accounts in your name only to avoid any credit score damage from your spouse’s solo debts. 

 

  • Consult a professional: If facing complex debt situations that could create legal liabilities, consult an attorney to understand your state’s laws and liability. 

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Say “I do” to debt resolution 

Of course, the best way to ensure that debt doesn’t have a negative impact on your marriage is to eliminate it altogether. If you or your spouse are struggling to manage $10,000 or more in unsecured debt, JG Wentworth can help. We’re no marriage counselors, but we have been helping countless people resolve their debt through our custom-tailored solutions and programs. Speak with a dedicated debt relief specialist today to see if you or your spouse qualify for our Debt Relief Program and reap the benefits:* 

  • One monthly program payment 
  • We negotiate on your behalf 
  • Average debt resolution in as little as 48-60 months 
  • 24/7 support 
  • We only get paid if we settle your debt 

 

Navigating debt within a marriage can certainly test the vows of “for richer or poorer.” But with transparency, boundaries and the right proactive measures, you can avoid letting debt dramas undermine your marital bliss. 

 

SOURCES CITED 

Rossellini, I., “Debts and Marriage – How Do the Laws Work for Spouses?” Marriage.com. February 7, 2023.  

Sherman, F., “How to Legally Protect Yourself From Your Spouse’s Debt.” The Nest. April 5, 2019. 

Leonard, K., “Community Property States In 2024.” Forbes. August 23, 2022. 

* Program length varies depending on individual situation. Programs are between 24 and 60 months in length. Clients who are able to stay with the program and get all their debt settled realize approximate savings of 43% before our 25% program fee. This is a Debt resolution program provided by JGW Debt Settlement, LLC (“JGW” of “Us”)). JGW offers this program in the following states: AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, FL, ID, IN, IA, KY, LA, MD, MA, MI, MS, MO, MT, NE, NM, NV, NY, NC, OK, PA, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, DC, and WI. If a consumer residing in CT, GA, HI, IL, KS, ME, NH, NJ, OH, RI, SC and VT contacts Us we may connect them with a law firm that provides debt resolution services in their state. JGW is licensed/registered to provide debt resolution services in states where licensing/registration is required. 

Debt resolution program results will vary by individual situation. As such, debt resolution services are not appropriate for everyone. Not all debts are eligible for enrollment. Not all individuals who enroll complete our program for various reasons, including their ability to save sufficient funds. Savings resulting from successful negotiations may result in tax consequences, please consult with a tax professional regarding these consequences. The use of the debt settlement services and the failure to make payments to creditors: (1) Will likely adversely affect your creditworthiness (credit rating/credit score) and make it harder to obtain credit; (2) May result in your being subject to collections or being sued by creditors or debt collectors; and (3) May increase the amount of money you owe due to the accrual of fees and interest by creditors or debt collectors. Failure to pay your monthly bills in a timely manner will result in increased balances and will harm your credit rating. Not all creditors will agree to reduce principal balance, and they may pursue collection, including lawsuits. JGW’s fees are calculated based on a percentage of the debt enrolled in the program. Read and understand the program agreement prior to enrollment. 

JG Wentworth does not pay or assume any debts or provide legal, financial, tax advice, or credit repair services. You should consult with independent professionals for such advice or services. Please consult with a bankruptcy attorney for information on bankruptcy. 

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