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Do I Have to Pay My Spouse's Debt After a Divorce?

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Enacted by the United States Congress in 1977, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) makes it illegal for debt collection agencies to implement certain techniques in attempts to collect outstanding consumer debts.

Some of the practices prohibited by the FDCPA include issuing threats and calling between the hours of 9 pm and 8 am. The FDCPA also allows consumers to sue third party debt collectors for violating one or more provisions of the federal law.

How do you handle a divorced spouse’s debt that a bill collector claims you are legally on the hook to pay off the debt? The answer is not explicitly written into federal law, but instead, states have the final say on whether you must pay off your former spouse’s delinquent debt.

Common Law vs Community Property States

The answer to the question “Do I have to My Spouse’s Debt after a Divorce” depends on whether the state where you live follows common law or community property rules. By far the minority in number, community property states include the following:

  • Arizona
  • Idaho
  • Louisiana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Community Property Rules

The eight states that have enacted community property rules for spousal debts require both spouses to pay off the debts owed by one of the spouses. “Community” refers to the couple, even if just one of the spouses signed off on a credit card or personal loan account.

Mortgages also fall under the legal standard established by community property rules. The key phrase for community property rules is “during a marriage.” After a divorce, neither spouse is legally liable for any debt incurred by the other spouse.

The possibility of one spouse racking up considerable debt during a prolonged divorce proceeding is one of the most important reasons to hire a licensed FDCPA lawyer to expedite resolution of the divorce.

Do I Have to Pay My Spouse's Debt After a Divorce?

Common Law

Common law states operate on the principle that any debt incurred by either spouse during a marriage is the sole responsibility of the spouse that took on the debt. However, a few court rulings have made exceptions to the common law rule of thumb.

Under common law, both spouses might be on the hook for the debt racked up by one spouse that paid for one or more family necessities, such as food and housing. The necessity exception to common law guidelines is the primary reason to work with an experienced FDCPA attorney.

Can the State Take My Property to Pay off a Spouse’s Debt?

In states that follow community rules for resolving spousal debts, creditors and debt collection agencies are allowed to take the assets and income of married couples to settle outstanding debts.

For example, if a married couple falls behind on mortgage payments, a court can rule a third party debt collector can recover a family vehicle for compensation.

The only way to remove the community rules status is by having both spouses sign an agreement that clearly states each spouse is legally liable for the debts taken out by the spouse. Any debt arrangements signed by both spouses remain under community rules.

Spouses can also sign an agreement declaring a creditor can recover property only from the spouse that took out a credit card or personal loan account.

After a divorce, you might have to deal with third party debt collectors that insist you are legally liable for the consumer debts accumulated by your former spouse. Speak with a highly rated FDCPA lawyer today to determine whether you are legally obligated to pay off your former spouse’s outstanding debts.

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