HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF FROM YOUR SPOUSE-TO-BE’S DEBT?
One of the many reasons why prenuptial agreements are a good idea for couples preparing to get married is that the process of drafting one encourages them to be open and transparent about their financial status. Some experts even recommend that couples share their credit reports with each other.
People often think of prenups as a way to protect their assets in a divorce. However, they can also help protect you from getting stuck with your spouse’s debt. In community property states like California, both of these things are especially important.
If you’ve got a fiance who has considerable debt and/or a poor credit rating, the good news is that you don’t automatically get stuck with those things when you tie the knot — even if you take your spouse’s last name. Debts incurred (just like assets accumulated) before marriage are considered to belong only to the spouse who brought them into the marriage.
However, when it comes to debt, you have to be careful about any that are incurred after you’re married. In community property states, even if a spouse takes on debt in their name alone, the other spouse could bear some responsibility for it in a divorce — particularly if the debt was for something they both benefited from (like a car or a home improvement).
Moreover, if you get a joint credit card or a loan with your spouse, you’re also responsible for that debt if the marriage ends. If your spouse doesn’t have a habit of making payments on time, you could end up being responsible for the whole thing if you don’t want your credit rating to tank.
In a prenup, you can specify what debts each of you will be responsible for after you’re married. However, you can’t anticipate everything. Therefore, if you’re marrying someone with a significant amount of debt or other financial problems, it may be wise to wait a bit until they can clean up some of their issues.
If you don’t want to wait, talk with your attorney in advance of drawing up the prenup (a process for which you should each have your own attorney). They can go over the things you need to do to keep your finances (particularly your credit) separate from your spouse’s and help you work to draft a prenup that will provide you with as much protection as possible.