"Until death — or bankruptcy — do us part" represents a sad reality for many couples. The unfortunate truth is that financial difficulties represent one of the leading causes of divorces, and they can be very difficult to solve. It can be especially challenging when one spouse refuses to address their own money issues, such as when a husband won't pay his debts. You could pay them for him, but it won't necessarily prevent a recurrence of the problem. Fortunately, there are some steps that you can take to protect yourself.
Determine if your Creditors View His Debt as Your Debt, Too
Find out if you live in a community property state or a common law state. Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin follow community property laws. In these states, any debt incurred after you are married is considered both of yours and creditors can take your property or attach a lien on your income to pay them — even if you did not agree to, or benefit from, the purchase. Debts your husband incurred prior to your marriage are considered only his, but creditors in community property states can go after any assets you bought jointly and any money kept in joint accounts, to collect on them. The other states are called common law states. If you live in one of those, then you are somewhat more protected. In most cases, only debts considered "household expenses" are deemed both of yours, your income is safe from attachment and only half of joint accounts can be liquidated to pay for his debts.
Separate Your Money
Consider setting up a separate bank account. If your husband won't pay his debts, then his creditors can come after any of your money that is kept in joint accounts. Separate accounts won't protect you in all situations, but some protection is better than none. If your husband feels threatened by this action, assure him that you are trying to protect your future by maintaining your credit score and work with him on a plan to address his debt. Remind him that your good credit score will help when you go to buy a home together, for example.
Separate Your Credit
Make sure that some bills and credit cards are in your name only. Since your credit ratings are independent of each other, you can maintain a good rating independent of your husband's score if you keep some of your transactions separate. Think about making the payments on any debt that your creditors consider both of yours, even if they are really his debts. The damage to your credit rating will be harder to fix than the strain on your relationship if you temporarily take matters into your own hands. You can then use your good credit to help your husband by adding him to an account or two. Your timely payments of those accounts will help him to rebuild once he has addressed his debt. If you share your reasoning with him, you may reduce some of the tension surrounding these issues in your marriage.
If your husband is truly unwilling to address his debt, you may need to seek professional help. Try to figure out why he won't pay them. If it's because he is just unwilling to pay, then counseling might be in order to help you agree on a financial approach that you can both live with. If he can't pay them, then a financial planner or credit counselor might be your best option. You might also need to consult an attorney to see if a post-nuptial agreement would protect your assets and credit from your husband's creditors. Similar to a pre-nup, a post-nup can legally separate your financial situations. However, a post-nup will only protect you from future charges so you may still be liable for debts incurred between your wedding and the onset of your post-nuptial agreement.
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