The good news regarding marital finances is that any debt your wife incurred before you got married is her sole responsibility. However, the day you agree to be with her "for richer or poorer" is the day her financial irresponsibility might become your responsibility. Depending on where you live and whose name the debt is in, you might be on the hook for her spending after you get married.
Community Property Debt
Nine states have community property laws, which require spouses to share financial affairs. As soon as you marry, you become liable for any new debt in the marriage, regardless of who actually makes the charges. Your wife could get a card in her name, claim responsibility for it and use it exclusively for her own purposes, but her creditors could still come after you for repayment. However, this rule only applies to debt incurred after the marriage. Debt that your spouse brings to the marriage remains her sole responsibility, unless you share a joint account. Arizona, Idaho, Washington, California, Nevada, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas and Wisconsin follow community property laws.
Common Law Debt
In the vast majority of states, you don't have to worry about paying your wife's debt unless you have a joint account. Common law states, which are the 41 states that are not community property states, assign the responsibility for debt to the person whose name is on the account. If your wife has her own card and makes her own charges after your wedding, you don't have to worry about being liable for repayment.
If you're an authorized user of your wife's credit card, you can't be held liable for repayment on the account in a common law state. In a community property state, you can't be made to pay by virtue of being an authorized user. However, community property laws would still put you on the hook for debt incurred after the marriage.
In a divorce proceeding, the person responsible for the original debt is generally assigned liability for it. However, it's entirely possible that a judge may rule you are at least partially responsible for your wife's debt, particularly if the case is made that the debt was incurred for household necessities. Technically, you couldn't be assigned the liability to repay the credit card company if your wife is the one who signed the initial contract. Still, she could sue you for failure to uphold the terms of your divorce decree if you don't pay off the debt that was assigned to you.
After receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English from UCLA, John Csiszar earned a Certified Financial Planner designation and served 18 years as an investment adviser. Csiszar has served as a technical writer for various financial firms and has extensive experience writing for online publications.