Thank you for your question about the debts you brought into your marriage and your spouse’s responsibility to pay them.
Is My Spouse Responsible for Debt I Incurred Before Marriage?
Two quick contradictory answers:
- No, your spouse is not responsible for your pre-marital debt if you reside in a common law state
- Maybe, if you reside in one of the 10 community property states
Let us tackle the easy answer first. If you reside in one of the common law states, whatever debts you incurred before marriage will be your responsibility alone. Of course, if you apply for a joint mortgage or a loan, the lender will analyze both of your credit ratings.
Community Property States
The answer to your pre-marital debt question is more complicated if you live in a community property state.
In community property states, 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. The details of the "debt during marriage" rule vary by state.
Pre-marital debt in community property states is much more complicated. Some states (California, Idaho and Louisiana) allow a judgment creditor to collect a debt from both spouses’ community property, but not their separate property. Other states (New Mexico and Washington) allow a judgment creditor to collect from 50% of the spouses’ community property. Still other states — Nevada is one — place a very high burden on a judgment-creditor to show the non-contract-signing spouse has liability for the debt.
Follow the links in the "Community Property States" table to learn the pre-marital debt rules for your community property state.