Family Law Blog

Divorce: Are You Responsible for Your Spouse's Debts?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

If you are thinking about divorce or in the midst of one, it's good to know whether or not you are responsible for your spouse's debt.

During the Marriage

California is a community property state. This means that property and other assets are owned by the couple jointly. As counterintuitive as it may seem, debts are considered negative assets by divorce courts. They are therefore subject to the same principles as assets. Debts are held in common just as assets are. Therefore, one spouse is responsible for the other's debts, even if only one spouse incurred the debt.

So spouses are both responsible for a jointly incurred debt, such as a mortgage or vehicle loan that both co-signed. Each is also responsible for debts the other incurred solely. In other words, if your spouse opened a credit card or obtained a personal loan during the marriage, you are responsible for the debt.

The key here, though, is that both spouses are responsible only for debt taken on during the marriage. If your spouse incurred debt in their name before the marriage, you are not responsible for it. So if your spouse is still carrying credit card debt on a credit card opened when they were single, you are not responsible for that.

After the Divorce

Community property rules no longer apply after the divorce. Any debt incurred after you are divorced is the responsibility of the party who incurred it.

The only exception is if you continue to maintain joint accounts (on bank or mortgage accounts, for example) or the debt is taken to repair jointly held property, such as a home or boat. In that case, because the accounts or property is held jointly, you would be equally responsible.

If you need to speak to an attorney about divorce, contact us. The first consultation is complementary.