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By: AgFed Credit Union

Welcome to AgFed Credit Union's MoneyDig blog! 

Get confident about your personal finances with a number of articles, tips, advice and more.


Does Marriage Make Me Responsible for My Partner's Debt?

 Apr 29, 2024
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Q: I’m newly married and just found out my partner has brought substantial debt into the marriage. Am I responsible for this debt?

A: Debt liability is a loaded topic with no easy outs. Your own liability for debts that your partner is bringing into the marriage will depend on several factors, but for the most part, saying “I do” does not make you accountable for your partner’s debt. Here are all your questions about debt and marriage, answered.

Am I responsible for my spouse’s credit card debt incurred before our marriage?

In almost every case, you will not be held responsible for debt your spouse has incurred before your marriage. The only exception to this rule is if you become a joint account holder after marriage. If you take this step, you will accept ownership of the debt and be held accountable for its repayment. 

Am I responsible for debts my partner incurs during our marriage?

The answer to this one will vary by state.

Most states, generally referred to as “common law states,” use a set of common rules to determine if you are liable for debt incurred while in a marriage. In these states, you will not be held responsible for debt incurred by your partner unless the debt accumulated from a joint purchase with your spouse or it benefited the marriage. This includes a car purchased with a loan that’s taken out by both spouses, or property for which both partners have their name on the title. 

The remaining states are known as “community property states” and have different rules to determine responsibility for a partner’s debt. As of 2024, there are only nine community property states:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Idaho
  • Louisiana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

If you live in one of these states, you and your spouse will share all assets and debts, regardless of who earns the income and whose name is on the debt. Consequently, you will be responsible to repay all debts accumulated after marriage. If your partner defaults on this debt, creditors may come after your joint property, though this can vary by state. 

In addition, in Alaska, South Dakota, Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida, married couples can agree to treat their property as community property if they meet specific requirements, which also vary by state. 

It’s important to be familiar with the laws in your home state regarding debts and marriage. You can likely find these laws on your state’s attorney general’s website. 

What are joint debts?

Joint debts are debts for which you and your spouse are both responsible. They include the following when both partners’ names are on the debt or loan:

  • Mortgage
  • Car loan
  • Credit card

Of course, both you and your partner will be responsible for paying off these debts, regardless of the state in which you reside. 

How does a prenup change things?

If you and your spouse decide to sign a prenup, it can change things significantly. You may choose to outline a specific division of assets and debts, or to assign responsibility for debts to the partner who incurred them. This way, if the marriage ends in divorce, the other party will not be accountable for these debts. 

How can we effectively manage debt after marriage?

As always, communication and transparency are key to success. Speaking openly about each of your individual debts and financial circumstances can help strengthen the marital bond and allow you to make informed decisions about your joint and individual finances. 

If you know your partner is bringing significant debt into the marriage, consider taking steps to protect your financial health. For example, you may want to maintain separate accounts and work together to create a plan for paying down debt. 

Finally, you may want to seek professional advice for managing debts after marriage. Financial advisors and attorneys specializing in family law can provide guidance tailored to your specific circumstances, enabling you to make informed decisions about managing debts and within the marriage.

“I do” doesn’t mean you agree to pay off your fiancé’s credit card debt. Use this guide to learn the ins and outs of debts and marriage as well as how to navigate the two successfully. 


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