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Ask Dr. Don

Hubby's broke, am I?

Dear Dr. Don,
My husband is very irresponsible. He never paid his car payments on time or paid what he was supposed to pay. Now he's unemployed and has been summoned to court.

The only loan we have with both our signatures on it is the mortgage on our home. I don't even file taxes with him. If he can't pay what he owes, can they come after me, since I'm his wife?
Michelle Morose

Dear Michelle,
It depends. In community-property states, the answer is likely to be yes. The community property states are: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Washington. The State of Wisconsin has adopted the Uniform Marital Property Act, which approximates community-property statutes.

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In these states spouses are generally responsible for each other's debts, as long as the spouse incurred that debt during the marriage. The logic is that if the spouses have equal rights to the income then they share responsibility for the debts.

In the remaining states spouses are responsible for jointly held marital debt. Many states also recognize a joint liability if the debt constitutes a family expense. Outside of these examples, spouses are not generally responsible for each other's debts.

If a collection agency starts dunning you for his debts you should file a complaint against them with either your state attorney general or the Federal Trade Commission.

-- Posted: Jan. 23, 2003

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