You're not responsible for any debt that your spouse took on before you became legally wed. This includes a mortgage loan, even if you and your spouse are living in the home that this loan has made possible. Be warned, though, that your spouse's debt could impact you in other ways.
You and your spouse lived separate lives before you were married. You each made your own financial decisions. This means that you are in no way responsible for paying off any of your spouse's debts if your spouse should unexpectedly die. If your spouse dies before paying off a mortgage loan, for example, the bank holding that loan will not be able to force you to make the remainder of the monthly loan payments. This holds true even if you've been living in the home that your spouse purchased thanks to this mortgage loan.
This doesn't mean, though, that you shouldn't be concerned about your spouse's mortgage debt. If your spouse dies before paying off the mortgage loan, the bank could attempt to pay off the mortgage debt by withdrawing funds and assets from the spouse's estate. This could leave you with less money than your spouse meant for you to have. It could also leave you without a home. The bank could decide to sell the home and use the proceeds from the sale to cover the remaining debt.
If your spouse has a history of missing mortgage payments or making them late, this could impact your ability to take on new loans. With every late payment, your spouse's credit score will have taken a hit. This is important; when you and your spouse apply for a new loan together -- whether to finance a car or a home -- lenders will only consider the lowest credit score among you. If your score is a healthy 740 and your spouse's a weak 620, your lender will toss out your score and only consider your spouse's. This could either leave you with a rejection or a far higher interest rate on your new loan.
It's important to speak honestly with your spouse about your partner's debt and past financial history. You'll need to create an estate plan to determine how your spouse's assets will be divided if your spouse dies without paying off his or her debts. This way, if the bank has to sell your home, you'll at least receive a fair share of the profits.
Don Rafner has been writing professionally since 1992, with work published in "The Washington Post," "Chicago Tribune," "Phoenix Magazine" and several trade magazines. He is also the managing editor of "Midwest Real Estate News." He specializes in writing about mortgage lending, personal finance, business and real-estate topics. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Illinois.