Is one spouse liable for the debts of another?

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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

Answers:

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

Answered 11 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.


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