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Am I Liable For My Spouse’s Debts?

Categories: Chapter 13, Chapter 7, Discharge Injunction, Family Law and Bankruptcy

     Chances are the answer is going to be a YES. The relationship between married persons and creditors is separated by individual or joint debt. Individuals are personally liable for their debts and may be jointly liable with others for their debts. See Division 9 of the Code of Civil Procedure; CCP Section 680.010 et seq. An obligation may belong to an individual or to two or more individuals per CC Section 1429.

     Personal liability for the debt of your spouse is found in Part 3 of Division 4 of the Family Code Sections 900-1000. For spousal liability purposes, “debt” is defined as an obligation incurred by a married person before or during marriage, whether based on contract, tort or otherwise (Fam. Code Section 900). A spouse is personally liable for the debts of the spouse in only three circumstances: (1) the debt of one spouse is assigned to the other spouse in the context of divorce proceedings, (2) the spouse becomes personally liable under the necessaries doctrine, and (3) a surviving spouse has liability for the debts of their deceased spouse up to certain limits.

     In bankruptcy we view these debts in terms of individual and community debts and have some flexibility in whether we advise our clients to file an individual or joint bankruptcy when working with married couples. Remember that we cannot represent married couples when a conflict arises, so it’s important to cooperate with your bankruptcy counsel and disclose everything to them, including whether or not you’re contemplating divorce so that they can properly represent you in obtaining the fresh start that you deserve.

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