Am I Responsible For My Fiancée's Prior Debt?

A reader wants to know whether or not he’s going to be held responsible for his fiancée’s old, bad debt now that they’re getting married. Because we went to Google Lawyer University just now, we’re happy to try to help.

He writes:

I will be getting married in a few weeks and I’m expecting trouble with my fiancee’s old bills. She went through a rough time and has had some stuff sent to collections. She has been paying on the bills so they should be happy for now.

We have had some long talks about bills and stuff so we don’t expect any new bills sent to collections but you never can tell with them.

What I am worried about is that once we are married i figure that they might decide to come after me for her old bills. I know that’s wrong but I’m at a loss about what to do or say if they decide to start bugging me for her old bills.

The answer is that it’s a little complicated, because there may be state laws that will impact the issue, but in general you are not responsible for the debt your spouse acquires before marriage. Having said that, if the bad debt has gotten so bad that there’s a lawsuit involved, talk to a lawyer to avoid any weird surprises from default judgments.

Some debt collectors will break the rules and pretend you’re responsible for the debt too, and that means they may start harassing you about it. They can’t do this, and if they try it you can demand that they stop. We’ve found the website Credit Info Center is a great resource for crafting a strategy to deal with abusive collectors—it’s got example letters to you can send, and specific laws you can cite to make it clear you mean business.

In fact, if you visit the site you’ll see that you may want to be proactive with this old debt and negotiate new repayment plans with the collectors. Collection agencies buy debt for pennies on the dollar, and in most cases will gladly settle for a lower amount if you can pay it up front. There’s a hidden cost to that route, because you’ll have to pay taxes on the amount that’s forgiven, but it will get it of your lives much faster.

(Photo: Oh mon héros [Aka Suleiman Poher])

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