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Separation and Debt: When Are You Responsible for Your Ex’s Bills?

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QUESTION: Now that my spouse and I have officially separated, I moved out of our home last month, am I responsible for any debts he may now incur or is he 100% responsible for new debts?  I ask because he’s in the process of financing a new car.

Your spouse has moved out and appears to have moved on. Your ex is wearing spiffy new clothes and driving a spiffy new car. You’re not sure how he’s paying for this, and you are worried. While you are separated, your divorce isn’t final. Could you still be responsible for your ex’s debts?

The debts that you and your spouse incurred during your marriage were joint debts, or marital debt. Pennsylvania law requires that this debt be divided equitably in the divorce agreement.  However, in most cases, debts that are incurred after separation are individual debts. The spouse has no liability for debt incurred after the date of separation. This is true even if a creditor may have relied on joint marital assets to secure a loan or line of credit. But, this doesn’t mean that creditors won’t come after you.

Credit card companies and banks may consider you responsible for your ex’s debts if your name is on the account. These means you could end up paying for your ex’s new wardrobe. You can protect yourself from responsibility for your ex’s future debts by closing all joint accounts as soon as you know you are divorcing.

There are exceptions. You can be found responsible for your ex’s debt if he took out the debt for your benefit or for the benefit of the children. This scenario often occurs when a lower-income spouse uses a credit card to pay for food, rent, mortgage, education, and utilities.  In this case, payment of the debt may be considered a form of spousal support.

If you have questions about debt during separation and divorce, speak to your divorce attorney. Your lawyer’s job is to protect your best interests. He’ll let you know if you are responsible for your ex’s debt and help you take steps to protect yourself in the future. For more information, contact Petrelli Previtera at 866-465-5395.

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