Am I Liable if I Marry Into Debt?

The other day a friend of mine and I were having dinner and she was discussing buying a house with her boyfriend. They’d been together for some time and were hoping to get married within the next few years.

“I’m wondering though,” she said, “if I’ll take on his debt when I marry him. ”

For the last two or three years, the number of people I know who are engaged, about to be engaged, or married has skyrocketed. This definitely corresponds with the thirties- many people hitting their thirties are (possibly) beginning to settle down and find others they want to be with for the rest of their lives. Not everyone, of course, but it’s definitely been a trend.

Which is why I was surprised that I didn’t know the answer- I felt like I’d researched this before, and the answer was no, but I couldn’t be positive. I actually forgot to look up the answer that night and then today Suze Orman just happened to bring it up on her podcast.

For anyone about to be married and wondering about it, the answer is:  NO, YOU WILL NOT LEGALLY INCUR ANY OF YOUR SPOUSE’S DEBT FROM BEFORE YOU WERE MARRIED. (Big sigh of relief!!) If your spouse incurred debt BEFORE you got married, it’s his or her debt ALONE. Of course, you can help with the debt, and some would say that once you’re married you share everything, including debt. But LEGALLY, debt incurred by one spouse before a marriage doesn’t touch the other one. No one is going to come after you for your spouse’s debt, and if they do they are JUST TRYING TO SCARE YOU. 

To avoid all the clarification questions Suze Orman (and all the finance websites I’ve been to) get all the time, I will clarify up front: the debt you’re NOT liable for includes EVERYTHING before marriage. It includes student loan debt, credit card debt, auto loan debt, tax debt, bank loans, EVERYTHING. You’re legally liable for NONE OF IT.

HOWEVER, debt incurred AFTER you get married is totally different. If you get married and your spouse suddenly gets into a lot of debt, that debt will be legally yours too IF you live in what are known as “Community Property States.”

Community-property states include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and the territory of Puerto Rico. Alaska also allows married couples to opt in to community-property status. Most people do not :p

If you’re NOT in any of these states, you’re in what’s known as a Common Law state. This means that in general if your spouse gets into debt, you’re not legally responsible. There are exceptions here such as if you open a joint account together and that account goes into collections (obviously, because now BOTH your names are on the account.)

Hope this solves things for any of you newly marrieds or almost-newlyweds! If any of our Canadian, UK, and other international readers would like to weigh in on the policy in your country, I’d love to learn about that (and I’m sure others would too!)

Sorry if this wasn’t the most fun topic ever, but it’s an important one as we head through the thirties. Here’s some funny photos of a flash mob I did once to lighten the mood, haha:

There were 50 of us dressed as brides and we stormed Times Square and took a lot of people by surprise.

There were 50 of us dressed as brides and we stormed Times Square and took a lot of people by surprise.

We were promoting a pretty terrible movie called "The Big Wedding." ;)

We were promoting a pretty terrible movie called “The Big Wedding.” 😉

 

Below are some links for even more details about marriage and debt:

The Simple Dollar: http://www.thesimpledollar.com/financial-infidelity-4-steps-for-healing-marriages-torn-by-finances/

Bankrate- http://www.bankrate.com/finance/debt/wife-not-married-to-spouse-s-old-debts-1.aspx#ixzz3Nzez1PNj

Nolo- http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/debt-marriage-owe-spouse-debts-29572.html

Lifehacker- http://twocents.lifehacker.com/how-to-protect-your-credit-when-you-marry-into-debt-1576458795

 

 

 

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