Generally speaking, no one is responsible for another person's debt; however there are some exceptions that can make you responsible for your spouse's debt or allow a creditor to seize an income tax refund, put a lien on your property, or levy your bank account. This can be true even if you were not married to your spouse when they acquired the debt.
Debt Incurred Before the Marriage
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) allows a debt collector to speak with a consumer's spouse about a debt, but this does not mean that the spouse is responsible for the debt, particularly if it was incurred before the marriage. For example, if your husband has credit card debt or medical bills that he acquired before you married him, a collection agency may call and speak with you about the fact that he owes the debt, but they will not be able to sue you in order to collect on it. Although, it should be noted that if the collector sues your husband for the debt, it may be able to levy a bank account that you own jointly with him or seize a joint income tax refund. This is because joint property is usually considered to be owned by both spouses in its entirety; meaning that your husband does not just own half of a joint bank account, he actually owns the entire amount, just as you do. So if either of you went to the bank to withdraw funds, the bank would not limit you to “your half”, it would allow either of you to withdraw all of the available funds without the other's permission. The same is true of a joint income tax return. Anyone legally permitted to seize the tax return of your spouse may seize the entire amount of the return, not just your husband's half.
Debt Incurred During the Marriage
In most states, the majority of debt incurred during the marriage is considered community property when it comes to a divorce court deciding how to divide the debt, but that does not necessarily mean that one spouse is legally responsible for paying the debt of the other should it go to collections. Whether or not you are responsible for your spouse's debt incurred during the marriage depends on the type of the debt and your state's laws. If a debt collector is asking you to pay your spouse's debt, you should consult an attorney before paying it, as you may not be legally responsible for the debt.
If a creditor or debt collector is asking you to pay a debt owed by your spouse or if your spouse is receiving harassing phone calls from a debt collector, please contact our office at 1-800-219-3577, for a free, no obligation consultation.