Is My New Spouse Responsible for My Medical Debt?

When I get married will my husband have to pay on any of my prior outstanding bills?

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Bill's Answer: Answered by Staff

Thank you for your question about the debts you brought into your marriage and your spouse's responsibility to pay them.

Which Spouse is Responsible for Debt Incurred Before Marriage?

The quick answer is: No! Your husband will not be held responsible for your debt. Whatever debts you incurred before marriage will be your responsibility alone. But, if you jointly apply for a mortgage or a loan, BOTH of your credit ratings will be analyzed if you both apply together.

Community Property States

If you live in a community property state, debts incurred during the marriage to benefit the community (your family), such as credit cards used to purchase items which will benefit both spouses, are considered community property, and are therefore owed by both spouses regardless of whether or not both spouses are listed on the credit card. For example, if you lived in Washington State and incurred debt during your marriage, both you and your husband, as a marital community, could be sued to collect on the debt. If a judgment were obtained against you, both yours and your husband's bank accounts could be levied to enforce the debt.

However, even in community property states, many creditors do not go to the trouble of suing both spouses, as doing so tends to complicate the legal process involved in obtaining a judgment. For example, in California, most credit card companies only sue the spouse that actually opened the credit card account. If the creditor chooses to sue only one spouse, and thus obtains a judgment against only spouse who opened the card, the creditor can generally only levy or garnish the assets of that spouse. If you live in one of the community property states mentioned above, and have defaulted on a credit card debt in your name only, I encourage you to consult with an attorney to discuss the possible ramifications for both you and your husband. Since community property schemes vary widely from state to state, it is important to discuss your situation with a legal professional familiar with your states? marital property laws. If you would like to read more about community property in general, I encourage you to visit the community property page.

If you would like more information about credit, please visit our credit resource page.

I hope this information helps you Find. Learn & Save.



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Comments (86)

Chad B.
Green Bay, WI  |  September 29, 2013
I have a possibly complicated question.

I live in Wisconsin, which is a community property state. My fiancé lives in Wyoming which is a common law state. Years ago I had a judgement brought against me for a civil suit, it's for a considerable sum of money. We are wondering if they will be able to come after her wages or assets for my old debt. She is joining the U.S. Marine Corps in 5 months, and we want to get married before she enlists, but we want to know how we can be sure we avoid anyone being able to come after her wages. We would like to know how to avoid any negative impact on her wages/credit.
  1. If we get married in Wyoming will it make a difference as to getting married in Wisconsin? Even though I am a Wisconsin Resident and she is a Wyoming Resident, does where you get married make a difference?
  2. If I become a resident of Wyoming before we get married will that avoid any problems (I have been living in Wyoming off and on for a year and can get the proper paperwork for a Wyoming Drivers License/ Residency)
  3. Will a civil judgment not be considered the same as a credit card or bill collector, the winner of the judgment is not actively pursuing it. (It's been 3 years since I have heard anything).

Thanks for your time. I have asked several lawyers, but i have gotten several different answers. And just FYI, paying-off the debt is not an option as I do not have $440,000 laying around.
September 30, 2013
It doesn't surprise me your asking several lawyers these questions resulted in different answers. Unfortunately, the law is full of gray areas. Also, you have several moving parts here, and your lawyers may have made different assumptions about how your creditor(s) would react to your actions. My answer may not be any clearer than your others.

Let us assume the statute of limitations has not run out on your judgment. Let us also assume your creditors will pursue you as the law allows until the judgment expires.
  1. In which state or country your marriage license is issued is a tiny piece of your residency puzzle. For example, you could as US citizens get married in Italy legally, and if you take the necessary steps, have your Italian marriage be recognized in the US. Short answer: Don't let this judgment determine where you marry.
  2. In which state you reside matters far more than where you married. You did not mention which state court granted the judgment. Let us assume it was Wisconsin or someplace other than Wyoming. If you are a Wyoming resident, the judgment-creditor must domesticate the judgment in Wyoming, and then use Wyoming's remedies laws to collect the debt. Becoming a Wyoming resident will not allow you to dodge the debt, but it may slow the judgment-creditor down a bit.

    As you pointed out, you and your spouse being Wyoming residents insulates her from collections activities because Wyoming follows common law rules when it comes to family law and spousal debt.
  3. Judgments have limited lives. Each state has a different clock for judgments. See the article Statute of Limitations on Debt to learn how long your judgment may live.

One last thought: Some states allow judgment-creditors to renew a judgment. A lawyer in the state where your trial took place will explain that state's judgment-renewal rule.

April L.
Durango, CO  |  April 30, 2013
If I have a substantial medical debt of about $25,000 from three years ago in Colorado how do I know when or how much they can garnish from my personal checking account?
May 01, 2013
A medical-debt creditor must obtain a judgment before it can levy your bank account or garnish your wages. With a judgment in hand, according to the collection laws in Colorado, the entire amount in a bank account with your name on it could be levied. Additionally, 25% of your wages could be garnished, after certain mandatory deductions are subtracted.

Check your credit report and see if there is a judgment against you. Look in the Public Records area of your report. If you don't have a judgment, make sure you respond to any summons you receive. If the creditors don't have your current address, you may not receive any notice of a lawsuit, but could first become aware of a judgment when a bank account is hit or your payroll department informs you that your wages will be garnished.

Also, when checking your credit report, note the date of last payment on the debt and pay attention to the statute of limitations on the debt. Your medical debt likely falls under the SOL for a written contract, which is 5 years in Colorado.
Cynthia F.
Austin, TX  |  April 11, 2012
I live in Texas and was recently married. I own a home which only I claim homestead on; also, I am the only person named on loan docs and the deed. I am selling my house to purchase another. I applied for a loan using only my name and credit. My husband has tax debt incurred prior to our marriage. We file taxes separately.
  1. Does his name need to be on the deed for the new house?
  2. Can the IRS place a lien on the new house if the deed and loan is in my name?
April 11, 2012
  1. A spouse in either a community property or common law state may own real property separately. You need not apply for a joint home loan, nor title the property in both spouse's names. It is common in community property states for lenders or title companies to require a spouse to sign a waiver that says basically, "Yes, I know my spouse is buying separate property."
  2. You mentioned residing in Texas, which is a community property state. In community property states, an IRS tax lien for one spouse applies to all community assets, including the other spouse's wages and community property. If you buy the property you mentioned with community assets, then it is available to the IRS for a lien. See IRS documents Part 25. Special Topics, Chapter 18. Community Property, Section 4. Collection of Taxes in Community Property States and Part 25. Special Topics, Chapter 18. Community Property, Section 1. Basic Principles of Community Property Law for details.

Consult with a tax lawyer for a more detailed analysis of your situation, in particular if you are using your own separate property to pay for the home you are purchasing.

Clayton S.
Cheyenne, WY  |  March 06, 2012
My wife acquired a substantial amount of medical debt while living in Colorado years before we got married. We live in Wyoming and she is currently unemployed. Collections surprised her today and had her served by a sheriff. The paper she needs to fill out is asking for my information (name, address, phone number etc.) and it states she can be held in contempt if it isn't filled out completely, notarized and returned within 10 days. Does she need to include my information, and can collections come after me for her unpaid medical bills because we are married now? I have outstanding credit, but more important, I have a family to support and can't afford garnished wages. Thank you in advance for any advice.
March 06, 2012
The document you received raises several questions in my mind. To whom are you supposed to return the questionnaire? Did a Wyoming court issue the document? Has a judgment been entered against your spouse? Wyoming is a common law family law state, so I find it curious a court would demand financial information about a debtor's spouse.

Take the documents you received to a lawyer who has experience in civil law, or more specifically, consumer law. He or she will advise you if and how to complete the document in question. I realize a lawyer's time is not cheap, but if the document is one your spouse can ignore without legal recourse, then the lawyer's fee was well spent.
Derek O.
Everett, WA  |  March 03, 2012
My wife has bad credit and owes the IRS money from tax debt. The return she owes money on was filed before we were married. We just filed a joint return for the first time. I am afraid by doing this, the money that she owes from before we were married will affect my credit score. Will this happen? She also has collectors coming for her for debt she incured years before we were married and they have been calling me now (all the time). Will that debt affect my credit score and am I liable for that debt now too?
March 03, 2012
The IRS tax debt is not your responsibility and will not affect your credit score. If you file taxes jointly, file an injured spouse form, too, so any refund you are entitled to receive does not go to her debt.

Her non-IRS debts will not show up on your credit report and you are not responsible for them. However, if a lien is filed by a creditor or by the IRS against her and you and she own property together, you will be affected by the lien that encumbers the jointly-owned property.
Lindsey S.
Cheektowaga, NY  |  February 10, 2012
I live in new york state and my boyfriend and I have been talking about marraige. I am a bit concerned though due to the fact that I have debt from a previous relationship. I have had several issues with debt collectors causing me troubles (bank wise) even though they legally cant cuz I have SSI. My question is can the creditors go after my spouse for my debt if we were to get married?
February 13, 2012
The general rule is that spouses are not liable for each other's pre-marital debt, but there are exceptions. Avoid joint accounts. Any assets, including a bank account, held jointly will be targets of a creditor's collection attempts.
Chris S.
Brown Deer, WI  |  January 10, 2012
I co-signed on my daughter's college loan. She defaulted now it is my responsiblity. I am about to get married. I live in Wisconsin. Will this also become my soon to be husband's debt also??
January 10, 2012
As I read Wisconsin's community property law, the answer to your question is no, however, I hasten to add that I am not a Wisconsin lawyer and therefore am incompetent to answer your question.

No two community property states use the same set of laws, and Wisconsin's statutes are especially unusual. Consult with a Wisconsin family lawyer for a precise answer to your question.
Sarah M.
Fowlerville, MI  |  December 02, 2011
I live in Michigan. My husband owned his house for 7 years before we got married. I am not on the deed or the mortgage or mortgage loan. Basicly I am in no way attached to the house. He forclosed the house and is filing bankruptcy. I am trying to get a mortgage and the question is...Have you directly or indirectly been obligated on any loan which resulted in forclosure... I'm wondering how to answer this question? The bankruptcy lawyer told us I am in no way effected by my husband's bankruptcy filing. Just wondering if you can help?
December 04, 2011
Listen to your lawyer. In my opinion, the question is overly broad when it asks if you were "indirectly obligated" on any loan resulting in a foreclosure. What does "indirectly obligated" mean? The law does not recognize "indirect obligation" — a person either has contractual liability or does not.

My opinion: Because your spouse purchased the property before your marriage, you do not live in a community property state, and you are not a signatory to the loan, you have no liability for the loan or foreclosure.

Your credit should not be affected by his bankruptcy, as long as you continued to pay on any joint accounts he included in his bankruptcy.
Audrey C.
Alhambra, CA  |  November 07, 2011
My husband and I filed separately, if he owes the IRS taxes and also has a owes a mortgage in his own name. If I file for divorce, do I have to pay for his debts? These debts are all incurred by him and all in his own name (i.e. mortgage, property).
November 08, 2011
You are responsible for IRS taxes only if you are a party on the return. As regards debt taken on during the time of marriage, your obligations will be determined by state law in general and whether the state is a community property state.

I recommend that you contact a local lawyer for legal advice. Anyone getting a divorce, where there is property involved, should consult with an attorney.
Jamia W.
Henderson, NV  |  October 29, 2011
My new husband has Tax debt from several years prior to our marriage. Can the IRS come after my personal bank accounts and student loan disbursements? I am terrified they will take the money for my college education.
October 31, 2011
Tax liability that one party incurred before the marriage is not transferable to the other spouse. The IRS has no claims on your accounts, refunds or student loan disbursements. However if the IRS is pursuing one party, any joint accounts in that party's name are fair game for a levy.

I recommend that your spouse deal with his tax debt by:
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