Am I responsible for my spouse’s credit card debt?
You may have made a commitment to take your spouse for better or for worse when you got married, but does that mean you are responsible for his credit card debt? The answer to this is not ordered in heaven but depends on the more mundane questions of the state in which you reside and contractual obligations.
Most states in the United States fall under the category of common law property states. In these 41 states, all assets acquired by a spouse belong solely to the spouse.
On the other hand, in the nine states which apply so-called community law (including Louisiana, Arizona, California, Texas, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and Wisconsin) property acquired during of a marriage belong to both spouses.
Liability for Credit Card Debt in Common Law States
Common law states consider property acquired by one of the spouses to belong to them alone. However, if you are both appointed owners, the property will belong to both of you. If your spouse has a credit card it is only on their behalf, you are not responsible for their debt. However, creditors use your spouse’s share of property that you jointly own with them.
And if you’re a joint credit card account holder, both of you will be responsible. You would also be responsible if you co-signed the account for them. However, if you are only an authorized user on your spouse’s credit card, you will not be held responsible for their debt.
Responsibility of the spouse in the States governed by Community law
In so-called community property law states, property acquired by any partner in marriage is considered community property.
If a debt is incurred during the marriage, it could be considered a community debt for the benefit of the marriage for which you would also be held responsible. However, if you are separated from your spouse and then go into debt, you would not necessarily be held responsible for that debt. However, every situation is different and if the state decides that this debt was incurred for the benefit of the marriage, you could still be held liable to your spouse.
In addition, you would be responsible for credit card debts if you are a joint account holder or co-signed the account.
Divorce or death of a spouse
If you divorce, a court could assign you a debt for which you were not originally responsible under the contractual terms of a credit card agreement. For example, you do not have a joint account and are not liable under the card contract.
Even then, you would be responsible, in accordance with the court’s mission, to repay the debt assigned to you. If you don’t pay off this debt, when the card issuer can’t hold you responsible, your spouse could still sue you for breaching the court order.
If your ex-spouse also files for bankruptcy, the bankruptcy court may pay off some of his debt. If it is a joint account, you would still be responsible for the unpaid debt.
And in the event of your spouse’s death, you would generally only be responsible for their credit card debt if you were a joint owner or co-signer of the account. However, the executor could tap into the property you owned with your spouse to pay off any debt owed, depending on the law in your state.
Stay on top of your credit reports
The law states that debt collectors generally cannot contact you about the debts of a deceased spouse, unless you are a co-signer or joint account holder, or otherwise responsible for the debt. The debt of a deceased spouse should also not affect your creditworthiness, unless you are responsible for it.
If you are concerned about your liability for a spouse’s credit card debt, it is also a good idea to keep track of your credit reports. This would give you an idea of your creditworthiness and keep you informed about joint accounts.
The bottom line
You are generally not responsible for your spouse’s credit card debt, unless you are a co-signer on the card or it is a joint account. However, state laws vary, and the divorce or death of your spouse could also affect your liability for this debt.
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