If my stepfather is getting sued, how can my mother protect her assets?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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If my stepfather is getting sued, how can my mother protect her assets?

My mom has wanted to divorce her husband for a while but never pulled the trigger. It became complicated when he was involved in a MVA in which he was drinking and hurt 2 people. He has now been sentenced to jail time and will likely be sued. How can she protect her assets and separate her life from her husband.

Asked on January 5, 2016 under Family Law, Wisconsin


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 7 years ago | Contributor

She needs to start the divorce now and try to expedite it, so if possible, it occurs *before* the lawsuit. Unfortunately, Wisconsin is a community property state: all money earned (or property bought) during marriage belongs to both of the spouses, and all debts incurred during marriage--including a debt for a MVA--are debts of both: therefore, she is liable for the judgment debt against him, if he is sued while they are married, and anything that was earned or acquired during marriage is fair game. Therefore, she needs to extricate herself from the marriage as soon as possible, so she can begin building her own assets and funds, free and clear of obligations to or from him.
Anything she received or earned prior to marriage or inherits separately from him (e.g. from her parents) is hers alone (and should not be subject to his debt), but she needs to keep it separate: if she mingles it with his funds, it may be difficult to determine what is what, and she should not use any of her separate funds to pay costs or debts for him or the family, since if she does, she gets no "credit" for doing so--the money will used and gone. Family or his costs should be paid from the community property--that is, not her separate, pre-marriage or inheritance-based assets.

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