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My Wife's Debt - Should I Pay It?

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    #31
    I can appreciate that some of you see marriage as a joint obligation, but I think it is important to not confuse values with the legal aspects of marriage. There certainly is no legal reason to not have seperate assets and liabilitues in marriage, save for some particulars that will varry according to jurisdiction. If some don't want that for themselves, that's fine. That isn't an absolute though.

    As for the OP's question, the worst that can happen is that your wife gets sued, a judgement is rendered against her and, should she fail to pay, that judgement may be executed against her assets. Some assets cannot be seized by their nature, which ones depends on jurisdiction (usually life essentials can't be seized).

    Does your wife have any assets?

    As for you, did your wife forge your signature?
    Last edited by thekid; 03-31-2009, 07:12 PM.

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      #32
      Originally posted by thekid View Post
      As for the OP's question, the worst that can happen is that your wife gets sued, a judgement is rendered against her and, should she fail to pay, that judgement may be executed against her assets.
      It's not just her assets they can sieze, it's yours too. Why sue her for nothing when they can sue you and get the money? Both partners are liable for any individual or joint debt incurred during a valid marriage. Doesn't matter who's on the account, who spent the money, who knew about it.

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        #33
        Originally posted by boosami View Post
        It's not just her assets they can sieze, it's yours too. Why sue her for nothing when they can sue you and get the money? Both partners are liable for any individual or joint debt incurred during a valid marriage. Doesn't matter who's on the account, who spent the money, who knew about it.
        Well then, if that's the case in your jurisdiction it certainly is not in all.

        Where I come from (Quebec, Canada) there certainly is no mutual obligation for debt incurred during marriage unless that debt was contracted for the "current needs of the family" and, even in that case the other spouse would not be liable if he had informed the other contracting party of his unwillingness to be bound.

        If that debt was incurred for personal items, or really anything other than buying food, clothes for the family or household items, there is no mutual obligation.

        I suspect it must be similar in other jurisdictions. What sense does it make to hold a spouse responsible for the personal, secretive spending of the other spouse?

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          #34
          Originally posted by thekid View Post
          What sense does it make to hold a spouse responsible for the personal, secretive spending of the other spouse?
          Because they're married. They have joined their lives. What's that biblical quote - "and the two shall live as one." Marriage is a committment to work together toward common goals. If one spouse is off spending money, it affects both spouses (as well as any children). If my wife went out and blew $5,000, it would affect all 3 of us because that money would have to come from somewhere. We'd have to work together to come up with the money to pay those bills. It wouldn't just be her responsibility.
          Steve

          * Despite the high cost of living, it remains very popular.
          * Why should I pay for my daughter's education when she already knows everything?
          * There are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going.

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            #35
            Originally posted by thekid View Post
            Where I come from (Quebec, Canada) there certainly is no mutual obligation for debt incurred during marriage unless that debt was contracted for the "current needs of the family" and, even in that case the other spouse would not be liable if he had informed the other contracting party of his unwillingness to be bound.
            Didn't know that about Quebec. It may not be the same law in the rest of Canada, though... and it's not the case in the US. In the States, you may be able to litigate the debt away, but at the high cost of lawyers and the courts. And, of course, there's no guarantee you will be absolved of any responsibility.

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              #36
              Originally posted by boosami View Post
              Didn't know that about Quebec. It may not be the same law in the rest of Canada, though... and it's not the case in the US. In the States, you may be able to litigate the debt away, but at the high cost of lawyers and the courts. And, of course, there's no guarantee you will be absolved of any responsibility.
              Didn't know that.

              So, in the US, spouse 1 would be legally responsible for the debt incurred by spouse 2 even if that debt was incurred for purely personal reasons without the knowledge of spouse 1 or, worse, with spouse 1's express disaproval.

              I find that quite harsh, personally, and that's not the case here, but hey if that's that, that's that.

              If this is the case in the OP's jurisdiction, I quite agree with you. He should negotiate a settlement and not pay that settlement until he and his wife gets a written release from any and all amounts, including capital, interest and fees, related to the CC debt.

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                #37
                Originally posted by disneysteve View Post
                Because they're married. They have joined their lives. What's that biblical quote - "and the two shall live as one." Marriage is a committment to work together toward common goals. If one spouse is off spending money, it affects both spouses (as well as any children). If my wife went out and blew $5,000, it would affect all 3 of us because that money would have to come from somewhere. We'd have to work together to come up with the money to pay those bills. It wouldn't just be her responsibility.
                I understand your viewpoint Steve, I was just trying to bring forward the possibility that marriage laws may not be based on that exact same premise and as such the OP may not be legally bound to the debt.

                Personally, I quite agree that marriage is a committment to work together towards common goals. That doesn't mean one should be responsible for debt incurred for goals other than common goals. In my jurisdiction, legislation is set up so that only "common goal" spending is a joint obligation. It may be different elsewhere.

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                  #38
                  I think in most states in the US, spouses are liable for each other's debts. It is only since reading this forum that I have ever heard people suggest that such might not be the case everywhere in the US.

                  Legal responsibility for one's spouse's debts is so well established that sometimes prior to "ugly" divorces, one spouse will meanly charge up the credit cards well beyond their sole personal ability to pay so that when the judge rules on the divorce terms, the other spouse is likely to be directed to pay half (or more!) of the credit card debt.

                  It used to be that the process of legal separation prior to divorce included a published declaration that one spouse was no longer responsible for debts of the other. Up until that publication, spouses were always responsible for each other's debts.
                  "There is some ontological doubt as to whether it may even be possible in principle to nail down these things in the universe we're given to study." --text msg from my kid

                  "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." --Frederick Douglass

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                    #39
                    Originally posted by thekid View Post
                    In my jurisdiction, legislation is set up so that only "common goal" spending is a joint obligation.
                    That's interesting. I'm curious how they define "common goal" spending. If my wife buys herself a dress, that isn't exactly a common goal, but if she needed that dress because we were invited to a formal affair, maybe it is. Where do they draw the line? If she bought a $100 dress, I wouldn't complain. If she bought a $500 dress, I certainly would.
                    Steve

                    * Despite the high cost of living, it remains very popular.
                    * Why should I pay for my daughter's education when she already knows everything?
                    * There are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going.

                    Comment


                      #40
                      The OP has several problems here. First, predatory debt collectors. Change your phone number, and don't tell them anything. Anything you say to them they can use against you. This is not to say you shouldn't pay or don't owe them. You might try going through a non-profit credit card counseling company that will negotiate for you. By "you", I mean your wife with your oversight, because even if you provide the cash, she needs to have the accountability of dealing with settling the debt. If there are no consequences, she will simply do it again.
                      This debt, after you have been through bankruptcy, shows she has a serious emotional or behavior problem. Only you can decide if it's worth working through. If you decide to stick it out, you'll have to let go of resenting she did this, and any expectation she'll pay it back. If there are other, deeper problems you can't solve, divorcing her will be less painful in the long run. Either way, you'll be working on this for a while.

                      Good luck- I know from personal experience what you're going through.

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                        #41
                        Originally posted by disneysteve View Post
                        That's interesting. I'm curious how they define "common goal" spending. If my wife buys herself a dress, that isn't exactly a common goal, but if she needed that dress because we were invited to a formal affair, maybe it is. Where do they draw the line? If she bought a $100 dress, I wouldn't complain. If she bought a $500 dress, I certainly would.
                        Here is section 397 of the civil code of Quebec, under the chapter relating to the effects of marriage:

                        "A spouse who enters into a contract for the current needs of the family also binds the other spouse for the whole, if they are not separated from bed and board.
                        However, the non-contracting spouse is not liable for the debt if he or she had previously informed the other contracting party of his or her unwillingness to be bound."

                        "Current needs of the family" is the standard according to which the debt will either be joint or seperate. Legal statutes will always have the standard drafted in large terms, so as to reflect the concept. Courts will then interpret the concept.

                        It is very much case by case. I'm a corporate lawyer, haven't read any family case law since law school. But yeah, usually something that is for the current needs of the family (groceries, household items or repairs, cars for the family use, etc.) are joint obligations and personal items are the sole obligation of the contracting spouse.
                        Last edited by thekid; 04-01-2009, 10:13 AM.

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                          #42
                          Originally posted by thekid View Post
                          usually something that is for the current needs of the family (groceries, household items or repairs, cars for the family use, etc.) are joint obligations and personal items are the sole obligation of the contracting spouse.
                          That's bizarre. What if one spouse doesn't work, or earns substantially less than the other? My wife couldn't support herself on what she currently earns. I'm responsible for her care and upkeep. That's what I agreed to when I married her. What about personal food? Let's say my wife ran up some CC debt going out to lunch every day at work. I wouldn't be held responsible for that? If so, that is sure a different definition of marriage than what I'm accustomed to.
                          Steve

                          * Despite the high cost of living, it remains very popular.
                          * Why should I pay for my daughter's education when she already knows everything?
                          * There are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going.

                          Comment


                            #43
                            Originally posted by disneysteve View Post
                            That's bizarre. What if one spouse doesn't work, or earns substantially less than the other? My wife couldn't support herself on what she currently earns. I'm responsible for her care and upkeep. That's what I agreed to when I married her. What about personal food? Let's say my wife ran up some CC debt going out to lunch every day at work. I wouldn't be held responsible for that? If so, that is sure a different definition of marriage than what I'm accustomed to.
                            Steve, since we are of civilist tradition in Quebec, I'll repond by yet again quoting the civil code

                            "396. The spouses contribute towards the expenses of the marriage in proportion to their respective means.
                            The spouses may make their respective contributions by their activities within the home."


                            There is a distinction to be made between how much you must contribute towards the charges of the marriage and who is responsible for what towards third parties.

                            Basically, insofar as legal obligations are concerned here, a spouse must contribute to the "expenses" of the marriage as per his or her capacity and a spouse is responsible for obligations enterred into by the other in as much as that obligation was contracted for the current needs of the family.

                            Beyond that there is no legal obligation. If a wealthy spouse wants to travel and have expensive hobbies, he doesn't have the obligation to pay for the other spouse's holiday travels or hobbies. He's not responsible for contracts the other may have signed that don't aren't for the benefit of the family.

                            That may be different than what you are used to or how you want to live, but I see absolutely nothing wrong with this legal framework.

                            Anybody can "share" beyond that if they so wish, but their legal obligations are limited to what's for the family's benefit. Personally, I have absolutely no problem with "family obligations" being communal and "private obligations" being private. Should a couple want to go beyond that, it's up to them....but the law here doesn't force you to pay for 5K$ in CC debt incurred by a spouse behind your back for private use.

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                              #44
                              thekid - That's very interesting. It is quite different than the way things are done here in the US and just a very foreign concept to me, having lived my whole life with a very different view of marital responsiblity. I realize different cultures do different things. In my mind, there are no "private obligations" within a marriage. Everything is joint, so the system you describe wouldn't apply.
                              Steve

                              * Despite the high cost of living, it remains very popular.
                              * Why should I pay for my daughter's education when she already knows everything?
                              * There are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going.

                              Comment


                                #45
                                I'm Canadian too. My thinking falls in line with what Thekid has posted. I am also a very modern woman and have never depended on a man for anything financial so that probably contributes to my thought pattern too. I personally would never want to be in a position where someone else felt they needed to take care of or be responsible for me.

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