The rules for determining which spouse is responsible for what debts incurred during the marriage vary between states and largely depend on the type of debt incurred. Generally, debt liability determinations fall into three classes:
- Debts incurred by a spouse in his or her own name
- Debts incurred by a spouse for marital necessities or necessaries
- Debts incurred by both spouses through joint accounts or credit cards
In most states, all debts accumulated by a spouse in his or her own name are the responsibility of that spouse. An individual loan or credit card agreement is an agreement that one spouse enters into and that spouse is solely liable for the balance due on the loan or account.
Both spouses are typically responsible for debts incurred under joint accounts. A joint account can be a credit card, line of credit, or loan agreement that both spouses sign as responsible parties. The creditor may seek a recovery from either spouse for the unpaid balance.
Many states make exceptions for debt incurred for "marital necessities." In legalese, the term used is "necessaries" meaning food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, insurance and other "comfort" items typical of the marital parties' standard of living or station of life.
In the old days, the husband was responsible for any debt incurred by the wife for necessaries. Today, states vary considerably on who is responsible for paying creditors for marital necessities—here's how the situation might be treated:
- The husband is still solely responsible for debts on marital necessities
- The husband has primary responsibility and the wife has secondary responsibility for marital necessities
- The wife can be found to be responsible for marital necessities
- Both spouses are equally and jointly responsible for marital necessities.
However, CO doesn't have a necessities doctrine so the debt, unless you co-signed or guaranteed, is strictly his debt alone.
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