Whether you are liable for your spouse’s debts depends on factors such as;  if you live in a common-law state or a community property state and what kind of debt it is. 

Common-Law State or a Community Property State

The IRS says most states operate under what is called common law. If a married couple opens a joint account or gets a shared credit card, they will both be responsible for paying back the debt.

In common law states, you’re usually only liable for credit card debt if the obligation is in your name. So, if the credit card is only in your spouse’s name, you’re typically not liable for that debt. Additionally, assets acquired by one member of a married couple are typically deemed to belong to that person, unless they were put in the names of both.

The laws are very different in America’s nine community property states, where the laws require that any property acquired, debt accumulated, and income earned during the marriage is the property or debt of each spouse.

What Kind of Debt is It?

In most states, you are not legally responsible for bills racked up before getting married. However, if you and your spouse open a joint account or get a shared credit card, you both will be responsible for paying back the debt.  Even if the spending was done solely by your spouse. 

Similarly, If you’re the cosigner on a loan for your spouse, your credit score will be hurt if your partner misses a payment. That’s because when you cosign for a loan, you’re signing on to be equally responsible for the debt. If they miss payments, the debtor could come after you for payments. The same situation applies if you and your spouse use a joint credit card.

In Common law states, property can be individually owned unless both names are on the contract. However, in community property states, assets and liabilities that either person acquires during the marriage become the joint property of both spouses. 

There are some exceptions for necessary joint household expenses. Debt that was racked up for things like child care, housing or food must be shared by both parties, even if a joint account was not created.

If you have any questions at all please call us at (800) 822-7120.

-Erik Kaplan

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