Will I be Liable for My Spouse’s Debts?

You may be required to pay a portion of your spouse’s debts, if those debts were incurred during the marriage.  Debts, like assets, are subject to equitable distribution between spouses.  The following are a few guidelines for determining how the court might divide your marital debts and obligations:

  • Where a debt is tied to personal or real property, the court will likely require the party who has possession of that property to service the debt.  For example, an auto loan will be paid by the person who has possession of the subject vehicle.
  • If one party has historically serviced an account, that party may be ordered to maintain responsibility for the balance of the debt.
  • If one party is at fault for incurring a debt, that party may be ordered to maintain responsibility for the debt.  For example, if one party was an excessive spender and incurred numerous credit card debts without the consent or knowledge of the other party, it is equitable for that party to maintain responsibility for those debts.
  • If one party is unable to cover his/her monthly expenses, the court may order the other party to pay a larger portion of marital debt in order to eliminate the need for alimony.

Individual debts remain the responsibility of the spouse who incurred them, but determining whether debts are marital or individual is difficult and is frequently a major point of contention.   A credit card or loan taken out solely in the name of one party is not necessarily individual debt.  Regular expenses such as grooming expenses, clothing, food and gas are considered marital expenses, and debts incurred to pay such expenses are marital debts.  Debts incurred prior to the marriage or after the parties’ separation are individual debts.  In addition, debts incurred outside of the marriage may also be deemed individual debts.  Such debts include gambling debts, money spent on alcohol or drugs and debts incurred in the course of an extramarital affair.