Am I responsible for a spouse's debt after a separation?

A legal separation is a way in which married couples can divide marital interests while still remaining married. Who is responsible for the marital debts in any legal separation differs from case to case. Legal separation laws differ between states, and you should always talk to a qualified family law attorney if you need legal advice about legal separation and its potential impacts.

Legal Separations

Just because you and your wife have decided to live apart or consider yourselves separated does not mean that you are legally separated. A legal separation is one in which a court enters a separation order that dictates what each spouse's responsibility is towards property, spousal support, child support and child custody. You can only get a legal separation by filing for it in court and having a judge rule on your case.

Separation Decrees

Once a you file for a legal separation, the court will issue a decree or order stating the terms of the separation. This decree assigns responsibility for all marital property, including debts. It may also provide for spousal support, also known as alimony, that one spouse will have to pay the other. You and your spouse can agree to these terms without asking the court to make the decision for you, but who is responsible for any particular debt depends on the court's final order.

Joint Debts

If you and your spouse have joint debts, you may be responsible for paying these debts after you are separated regardless of to whom the court assigns the debt responsibility. For example, if you and your spouse have a joint credit card, your creditor can hold both of you liable for the debt. Because the creditor is not a party to the divorce, the credit card agreement will still allow it to do this even if the court assigns the debt to your spouse.

Individual Debts

If you and your wife have individual debts, such as credit cards held in only one spouse's name, you are generally only responsible for your own debts. However, you may still have to pay for your spouse's debts if you agree to, or if the court orders you to make alimony payments. If, for example, you earn a lot more than your spouse, you may have to pay him spousal support every month that he then uses to pay his debts.

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About the Author

Roger Thorne is an attorney who began freelance writing in 2003. He has written for publications ranging from "MotorHome" magazine to "Cruising World." Thorne specializes in writing for law firms, Web sites, and professionals. He has a Juris Doctor from the University of Kansas.

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