If my ex has decided to buy a house with her boyfriend and she defaults on the mortgage, am I financially responsible for her debt?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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If my ex has decided to buy a house with her boyfriend and she defaults on the mortgage, am I financially responsible for her debt?

We have yet to file separation papers.

Asked on March 1, 2018 under Family Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Unfortunately, you live in California, a community property debt. While technically *you* are not liable personally for the debt, your share of "community" property, which is all money and assets acquired during marriage other than anything willed or gifted to you, is liable for the debt. Your separate property--anything inherited, gifted, or acquired pre-marriage--is not liable.
Example--deliberately simplied:
Say your wife and her boyfriend take out a $500k mortgage which still stands at $480k in principal when they default. Say that the house brings in $380k in foreclosure, leaving $100k unpaid.
Now, say that during your marriage, you and your wife bought a house  together; bought two cars; and put $25k of income from work one or both of you did during marriage into a joint bank account or accounts. (And remember: you are continuing to earn money while you are still married to her, and your new earnings during marriage also become community property.) The bank/lender who is owed the remaining $100k from the defaulted house can go after the $25k in the bank, the cars, or your home (though any existing mortgages or financing agreements on cars or house take precedence and could effectively make those assets not reachable by the lender, meaning that the money in the bank may be the main thing they go after). That's because those assets were acquired during marriage, so they are community property; and community property can be used to satisfy the debts of *either* spouse which he or she incurs during marriage--even while estranged. You may wish to accelerate you divorce to disentangle yourself from her--not only can she obligate your community property to be used to pay her mortgage, but suppose she runs up big credit card bills while still married to you? Co-signs for an expensive car for her boyfriend, which he defaults on? Incurs large medical debts? So long as you are married, even if estragned, your community property is potentially responsible for these things.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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