Love and Marriage...and Debt

Submitted by Jen Jones on Sat, 04/18/2009 - 8:16pm

Love and Marriage...and Debt

How many people enter into marriage these days totally debt-free? Probably fewer than you would think. Debt might have been accrued from the often inevitable student loan, through inexperienced or irresponsible spending, or even by footing the bill for a once-in-a-lifetime wedding and honeymoon extravaganza. For those taking the plunge for a second or third time, the debts could come from a myriad of sources. Regardless of where it comes from, premarital debt is going to be a consideration for couples contemplating marriage more often than not.

The fact is, only a very fortunate few couples have the luxury of starting out their new life together debt-free. If you're one of them, count your blessings! If not, well, what to do?

Well, first, don't ignore the fact that you or your fiancee has premarital debts. This could lead to serious consequences during your marriage. But don't call off the wedding just yet.

Second, you need to get some facts about how this debt will affect you. Will you become individually legally liable for his or her pre-marital debt after the wedding?

A third consideration, which most people don't want to consider, but wish they had after it's too late, is how to protect yourself from becoming responsible for a spouse's pre-marital debts in the sad event of a divorce. And, what will happen to those premarital debts in the event that bankruptcy becomes inevitable?

These are questions that an attorney, specifically a bankruptcy attorney, can answer for you, based on your specific circumstances. As a general rule, however, debts incurred wholly by one partner prior to the marriage will belong to that partner individually during the marriage and are considered as such in the event of a divorce. The same holds true for most debts incurred during the course of the marriage (in States like North Carolina).

The biggest exception is where you live in a State governed by "community property" laws. California, for example. Generally speaking, in community property States, debts incurred during the marriage are deemed owed by both spouses, regardless of who signed on the dotted line.

Don't live in a "community property" State? Good! Then, in most situations, even if you are married..."If you did not sign it, you do not owe it".

So, unless you signed on your spouse's premarital debt, or signed on the re-finance of that debt during the marriage, you shouldn't worry that you will be required to shoulder your fiancee's pre-marital debt.

However, such debt could have dire implications upon the health of your marriage. Shaky finances can put tremendous stress on a marriage and this stress often is a major reason that many marriages fail.

If, prior to marriage, one partner is overwhelmed by debt, you should talk to a bankruptcy attorney to help you decide if filing for bankruptcy prior to the marriage will allow that partner to move forward and reconstruct his or her financial health. This step will bring long-term benefits to the union, and also facilitate the marriage to get started out on solid footing.

The decision to get married should be a joyful and momentous event in your life. Don't let these moments be overshadowed by your or your fiancee's debt burden. And don't feel like your only option is to postpone the wedding until you are both completely debt-free. Often that just isn't realistic. If you are concerned about the affect of debt on your future spouse or your marriage in general, please contact a skilled bankruptcy attorney who can help guide you during this crucial time.

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