by Max Gunderson

There are plenty of unknowns when entering into a new marriage.  “Will he ever put the toilet set down after using the bathroom?”  “Will her Mother ever stop nagging”  “Do I really have to give up my Sunday Poker games?” but what about “Am I held responsible for all the debt that my spouse is bringing into this marriage?” Most of the questions and unknowns in a new marriage can not be readily answered, however, we can provide some clarity regarding your spouse’s debt.

When you get married, you accept your spouse “for better or for worse.”  With the current state of the economy and the hard financial times that many people in Arizona are experiencing, it is quite common that your new spouse may be entering into a marriage with significant debt.  Can you, as the spouse, ever be held liable for this debt?  The answer to this question is “no.” In Arizona, you cannot be held responsible for another person’s debt unless you voluntarily agree to take on the obligation of their debt.

To assure that you are not obligating yourself to your spouse’s debt, there are a few easy things that you should do.

Avoid buying a large asset jointly with your spouse. Even if this seems like a safe idea at the time, avoid it!

Keep your checking accounts separate! In Arizona, the assets in a joint bank account belongs to both parties, each having an undivided half interest.  This means if your spouse is being garnished for a past debt, the garnishing creditor can clean out a joint checking account even if only one of the individuals on the account is being garnished.

Avoid filing joint tax returns: If your new spouse is dealing with tax problems, you should probably think twice about filing a joint tax return. The IRS and Arizona Department of Revenue would love to have two parties to pursue to collect on a debt from back taxes instead of one. Additionally, if you were entitled to a tax refund and filed jointly, that joint tax refund could be at risk as the IRS or Arizona Dept. of Revenue could take the entire joint tax return to help satisfy an old tax debt by your new bride or groom.

The best thing that you can do:  If you are in Arizona, entering into a marriage and your spouse is carrying significant debt or has existing tax problems, it would be in your best interest and the best interest of your marriage to keep your financial affairs separate. For additional advice on keeping your finances separate after marriage or guidance on dealing with significant debt by your spouse, contact a trusted Phoenix or Tucson, Arizona attorney for assistance.  We offer a Free Initial Consultation and Free Phone Consultations.  Let us help you out.  Contact us.