You’ve met the person of your dreams who has it all: charm, class, humor and a way of making you feel like you’re the only person on the planet. Falling in love is always a blissfully, sometimes blindly wonderful roller coaster ride. Then comes the proposition of marriage.

Before or even after you say “yes,” there must be a serious conversation about things that courting couples would never broach. One of those things involves the dreaded “F” word…Finances.

In the 15-year period between 2002 and 2017, the total number of married couples in the United States dropped by a whopping ten per cent. One of the primary contributing factors to the decline of American matrimony was a downturn in the economy where financiers became tighter and debt grew larger.

Many young adults who, in the past, would have married right out of college and then embarked on a career, now find themselves facing daunting student loan debt and a paucity of job opportunities in their chosen fields. As a result, credit card debt then rose as paying the bills with a lack of consistent income took many young adults down a very dark, debt-ridden path according to debt lawsuit professionals at the GM Law Firm in Boca Raton, Florida.

“Couples today are facing greater debt than ever before in the history of this country,” explains the debt lawsuit experts at gmlawfirmllc.com. “It’s now more important than ever to get a handle on your debt before emerging into a union so that the fear of harassing debt collectors or, worse, a debt-related lawsuit doesn’t stand in the way of getting married and starting a family.”

How “Common Law” Marriage Makes Your Partner’s Debt Your Problem

So now back to that dreaded question that no one likes asking, but everyone should know before tying the knot: “Are you in debt?” It’s an important question to be answered, not just for the sake of your future and planning for more expensive notions like buying a house or starting a family.

But in many states, a new spouse immediately assumes the debt of the other partner, even though that debt hole was dug before you were married. Hell, your partner’s debt may have been amassed even before you met.

In some states, a new spouse will not be affected by their partner’s past when it comes to debt. However, in “common law” states the opposite is true. And, to compound matters, most states consider themselves common law which means before entering into nuptials, you should contact a debt law specialist like the GM Law Firm to determine how the marriage will affect your credit status and if you could actually be on the hook for your new partner’s past. And, God forbid divorce rears its ugly head in which case you might be faced with a harassing debt lawsuit if your partner decides to sue.

A common law state recognizes a couple as being “married” based on an extended period of time in which the couple has co-habitated but has never taken the extra step to have an actual ceremony presided over by a legal clerk or have applied for and received an actual marriage license.

The following list of states fully recognize common law marriage:

Absolute common law states from east to west include:
• District of Columbia
• Rhode Island
• South Carolina
• Kansas
• Texas
• Iowa
• Colorado
• Montana
• Utah

Then there are also several states that have common law definitions with specific exceptions that debt legal specialist can help sort through, including:

• New Hampshire
• Georgia
• Pennsylvania
• Ohio
• Oklahoma
• Idaho

Regardless of where you currently reside, the IRS considers most states to conduct themselves under a version of common law. In such cases, if couples in what’s deemed a common law marriage open a new joint bank account or open a shared credit card, both partners will be on the hook for settling and paying down the debt. Being prepared and informed is the best help with a debt lawsuit according to globe news wire if the situation came to that drastic point.

On the other hand, if new accounts or loans are opened in only one of the spouse’s names, only that partner will be responsible for the loan. Doing so will only hold that one person with the responsibility for paying back that loan preventing aggressive bill collectors from harassing the new partner who previously had a clean bill of debt health.

A couple exceptions to the rule of joint credit debt includes past expenses like child care for a son or daughter from a previous marriage. Those expenses must be shared by the new couple jointly.

Sharing May Not be Caring: Beware of Joint Credit Accounts if Your New Partner Had Previous Debt

If shared credit or bank accounts are created in the context of a new marriage, then liability for past debts extends to both new and existing lines of credit. So, if a partner signs on as a joint participant with an existing credit card, for example, the new partner will be liable for all expenses charged on that card.

The same theory holds true with bank accounts. When both partners become one on a bank account, the account becomes a shared asset and the couple are equally responsible for the monies coming and going from that account.

In this scenario, if debt collectors aggressively try to settle your partner’s previous debt, they could, and most likely will, try to pry money from this new, shared bank account.

It’s also important to keep in mind the nuances between same-sex marriages and heterosexual unions. Although the laws regarding debt ownership can be different, especially if a same-sex couple had a longstanding domestic partnership before gay marriage became legal in their state, it’s important to understand how the laws and timing affect your specific partnership.

Consulting with debt legal specialists like the attorney group at the GM Law Firm, can help clear the muddy waters, so mistakes are not made before entering into a marriage that could have major consequences on your credit and liability for the rest of your life.

Defining Debt After Marriage in Community Property States

There are currently nine “community property” states in the United States. In these states, community property is defined simply as all property and previous debt shared once a couple ties the knot. The good news for a new spouse of a debt-ridden partner is that previous accrued debt that was brought into the partnership is not the responsibility of the non-debt partner.

However, debt accrued after the wedding debt instantly becomes a shared debt. You also have to watch out for taxation as it relates to states that have specific community property laws. Beware that premarital taxes can ultimately be collected from shared bank accounts that were enacted after marriage.

The community property states include:

• Arizona
• California
• Nevada
• Idaho
• New Mexico
• Louisiana
• Texas
• Washington
• Wisconsin

In these states, any community property can be part of a potential debt lawsuit and be subject to a lien to pay off debt.

One way to avoid joint liability is to consult with a debt legal organization and sign a waiver stating that all debts and income should be viewed separately to protect the spouse who didn’t previously shoulder the debt. A signed pre or post nuptial agreement can satisfy these details.

Although the “F” word can be an awkward and uncomfortable conversation, you should discuss past, present and future finances with your betrothed. Marriage puts you in a precarious position of assuming your partner’s past — both personally and financially. Their past debt can hurt your present and future credit score. It would also be wise to seek protection in the case of a debt lawsuit, according to PR Newswire.

Keep in mind that a bad credit score or deep debt on one partner’s part could result in higher interest rates or the difficulty in getting a decent loan. His or her debt now becomes the couple’s joint problem. If the relationship is truly a match made in Heaven, then an honest and open-ended conversation with your significant other should be no big deal.

Open the lines of communication and understand the ramifications of personal liabilities and how your good debt standing could be affected. If the circumstances are dire, you need to best prepare a potential defense regarding your debt related lawsuit that might be on the horizon.

Again, meeting with a debt legal team like the partners at GM Law Firm can steer you toward the best practices and decisions before entering into marriage where debt reconciliation strategies are suddenly set in stone and could haunt both partners and their credit for the rest of their lives.