Debt and Marriage: Do I Owe My Spouse’s Debts?
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Debt and Marriage: Do I Owe My Spouse’s Debts?

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Anat Resnik

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Debt and Marriage: Do I Owe My Spouse’s Debts?

Whether you and your spouse are liable for each other’s debts depends mostly on where you live. In California, one of the handful of states with “community property” rules, most debts incurred by one spouse during the marriage are owed by both spouses. But in states that follow “common law” property rules, debts incurred by one spouse are usually that spouse’s debts alone, unless the debt was for a family necessity, such as food or shelter for the family or tuition for the kids. (These are general rules; some states have subtle variations in how they treat joint and separate debts.)

These rules also apply to same-sex marriages in the states that allow them and to same-sex domestic partnerships and civil unions in states where those relationships are the equivalent of marriage such as California.

California is a community property state and as such the following guidelines generally apply:

Debts

In community property states, most debts incurred by either spouse during the marriage are owed by the “community” (the couple), even if only one spouse signed the paperwork for a debt. The key here is during the marriage. So if you incur a debt, such as a student loan, while you’re single, and then get married, it won’t automatically become a joint debt. (An exception is where a spouse signs on to an account as a joint account holder after getting married.)

After a legal separation or divorce, a debt is generally owed only by the spouse who incurred the debt, unless the debt was incurred for family necessities, to maintain jointly owned assets (for example, to fix a leaking roof), or if the spouses keep a joint account.

Income and property

In community property states, a couple’s income is shared as well. All income earned by either spouse during marriage, as well as property bought with that income, is community property, owned equally by husband and wife. Gifts and inheritances received by one spouse, as well as separate property owned before marriage that’s kept separate, are the separate property of one spouse. All income or property acquired before or after a divorce or permanent separation is also separate.

What property can be taken to pay debts? In California, creditors of one spouse can go after the assets and income of the married couple to make good on joint debts (and remember, in a community property state, most debts incurred during marriage are considered joint debts).

If you have a question regarding Family Law in the San Fernando Valley please contact us at (818) 926-4420 or visit the Family Law section on our website at Law Offices of Anat Resnik. Call today and we will connect you with Anat Resnik, an experienced, aggressive, affordable Divorce and Family Law Attorney in the San Fernando Valley. After you have spoken with our San Fernando Valley Family Law attorney, we can schedule you a free face to face appointment to discuss your circumstances. If you have questions or are considering any aspect of filing for Divorce, a Paternity issues, Child Custody and Visitation, Spousal Support & Alimony, etc. we can help! Call us now at(818) 926-4420. We look forward to hearing from you and assisting you with any and all family law needs.

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