Is My Spouse's Debt My Responsibility?

Marriage is a huge step for most people.  It signifies some major life changes, including to your finances. Even as you celebrate, you might have some questions about exactly what marriage means for your financial future.

Credit Card Debt Liability in Common Law States

Most U.S. states are common law states. That simply means the property you acquire belongs to you, even if you’re married. Unless the property is in both people’s names, it belongs to one person. Forty-one states are common law states, so it’s likely this policy applies to you.

Spouse’s Liability in Community Law States

There are nine states that are community property states rather than common law states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. In these states, any assets acquired during a marriage belong to both partners.

Community Property State Debt Rules

In a common law state, your partner’s credit card belongs only to them. But in a community property state, if they get a credit card while you’re married, that debt now belongs to both of you. Both partners are liable regardless of who might have opened the account or accrued the debt.

Will My Partner’s Debt Affect My Credit Score?

You can breathe easy here. Even in a community property state, your partner’s debt won’t affect your credit score. If one person has some ups and downs in their credit history, that remains their credit history alone.

What Happens If We Separate Or Divorce?

While one of the first questions may be how much will a divorce cost me, it is very quickly followed by, ‘what happens to our debt?’ Again, it depends. Debt isn’t as simple as dividing things in half. For example, if you have a credit card that is only in your name, that debt remains entirely with you.

Investments After a Split-Up

All of this becomes even more complicated if you did any investing as a couple during your marriage. Investments come with legal and tax obligations, on top of the financial complexity. If you invested together, you may want to think about selling off those investments and dividing the proceeds during a divorce.

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