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Does Marriage Make Me Responsible for My Partner’s Debt?

Does Marriage Make Me Responsible for My Partner’s Debt?

Q: I’m newly married and I just found out my partner brought a lot of debt into the marriage. Am I responsible for it?


A: Saying “I do”, generally does not make you accountable for your partner’s debt. Here are all your questions about debt and marriage, answered.


Am I responsible for my spouse’s credit card debt incurred before marriage?


You won’t be held responsible for debt your spouse has incurred before your marriage. The only exception to this rule is if you become a joint account holder during the marriage. If you take this step, you will accept ownership of the debt and be held accountable for repayment.


Am I responsible for debts my partner incurs during our marriage?


Most states, generally referred to as “common law states,” use a set of common rules to determine if you are liable for debt in a new marriage. In these states, you will not be held responsible for debt incurred by your partner unless the debt accumulated from a joint purchase with your spouse or it benefited the marriage. 


The remaining states, known as “community property states,” have different rules to determine responsibility for a partner’s debt:

  • Arizona

  • California

  • Idaho

  • Louisiana

  • Nevada

  • New Mexico

  • Texas

  • Washington

  • Wisconsin


If you live in one of these states, you and your spouse will share all assets and debts, regardless of who earns the income and whose name is on the debt. Consequently, you will be responsible to repay all debts accumulated during marriage. 


What are joint debts?


Joint debts are debts for which you and your spouse are both responsible. They include the following when both partners’ names are on the debt or loan:


  • Mortgage

  • Car loan

  • Credit card


Both you and your partner will be responsible for paying off these debts.


How does a prenup change things?


If you and your spouse decide to sign a prenup, you can assign responsibility for debts to the partner who incurred them. This way, if the marriage ends in divorce, the other party will not be accountable for these debts.


How can we effectively manage debt during marriage?


As always, communication and transparency are key to success. Speaking openly about each of your individual debts and financial circumstances can help strengthen the marital bond and allow you to make informed decisions about your joint and individual finances.


If you know that your partner is bringing a lot of debt into the marriage, consider taking steps to protect your financial health. For example, you may want to maintain separate accounts and work together to create a plan for paying down debt. 


Finally, you may want to seek professional advice for managing debts during marriage.


Use this guide to learn the ins and outs of debts and marriage, as well as how to navigate them successfully.

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