Is one spouse liable for the debts of another?

UPDATED: Oct 4, 2010

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Is one spouse liable for the debts of another?

My husband recently lost his job and has been gambling. Am I going to be responsible for his debts even though the credit cards are only in his name?

Asked on October 4, 2010 under Bankruptcy Law, Minnesota


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 years ago | Contributor

Generally, one spouse is not obligated to pay the bills of the other spouse. Exceptions to this rule exist however. If you live in a community property state, you would typically bear responsibility for such a debt (MN is not such a state so it is not applicalbe to your situation). The second exception would be if you signed or in some other way agreed to be legally bound for re-payments on the debt (since the cards are solely in his name this doesn't appear to be a problem for you here). The last exception falls under something called the "doctrine of necessities". While many states no longer follow it, in the states that still do, one spouse is liable for the "necessary" expenses incurred by the other spouse during marriage. Yet, even if your state follows this doctrine, gambling debts would not be deemed to be "necessary” expenses of the household.

Note:  To the extent that you have joint assets, then those assets would be at risk. For example, a house or joint bank account (at least to the extent not exempted underlaw).  At this point you should consult directly with an attorney in your area.

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 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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