Do You Need to Pay an Ex-Spouse's Debt?

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on January 16, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Are you legally responsible for your spouse's debt? This is a question considered by many married couples contemplating divorce.

It's common knowledge that upon the end of a marriage, assets need to be divided. But so do debts. So what should you know about debts and divorce?

First, know that the laws regarding who will be liable for which debt may vary depending on which state you live in, and it can get complicated. But there are also some general rules.

Here's what you need to know:

You are not liable for debts brought into the marriage. For example, if your ex-spouse had a $20,000 credit card debt before you got married, you typically won't be held liable. That debt will belong to your ex.

If you signed on to a debt, you are liable. Many couples have joint credit cards. If you both signed for the credit card promising to pay for the bills, you will both be liable. This can be true even if your spouse is the only one who uses the credit card.

You may be liable for separate debts incurred during your marriage. In community property states, spouses are liable for separate debts if they are incurred during the marriage. For example, if your husband purchases a fancy sports car for himself, you could be liable even if you didn't co-sign for the purchase. However, in non-community property states you normally won't be held liable.

You may be held liable for "family expenses." In non-community property states you may be held liable for certain expenses even if you haven't co-signed for them. These expenses are ones that were incurred for the benefit of the family. Items that fall into this category include groceries and medical bills.

Of course, each couple's situation is unique, and there may be a few factors that you have not considered. That's why you may want to consult an experienced divorce attorney in your area to figure out whether you need to pay for an ex-spouse's debt.

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