Spouses Can Be Held Liable for Certain Unpaid Debts of Their Husband or Wife

HNWElder Law, Estate Administration and Probate

By Fredrick P. Niemann, an Estate Administration Attorney


Did you know that a creditor may be able to come after you for some of the debts that your spouse has incurred? You heard me correctly. New Jersey’s law of necessities states that certain expenses of one spouse are actually guaranteed to be paid by both spouses, even the one not involved with the transaction.

Normally, a person is not liable for the debts of another absent an agreement between the two people. However, marriage is a key exception to this rule. Since marriage involves a unique bond between two people, they share some of the debts of each other. The New Jersey Supreme Court has handed down this rule in a number of cases, but has made sure to apply strict requirements to it.
First, the debt must be incurred during the marriage. A husband and wife who are divorced are not liable for each others debts incurred after the marriage. Second, and most importantly, the debt must be “necessary”. The New Jersey Supreme Court has stated that only debts for necessary goods and services will be included in the exception.

Whether a good or service is deemed “necessary” is usually based on your specific case, as very few expenses have been determined to always fall under this category. One universally necessary expense is the hospital bills and costs associated with medical care. Legal expenses for representation of a spouse are also necessary, but only if the family’s well being is affected by the outcome of the litigation. Other necessary expenses are determined by the Courts, as they look at whether the spouse and family in general has benefitted from an expense/debt.

In order for a creditor to recover your spouse’s debts from you, a creditor cannot come to you without first trying other avenues of recovery. The creditor must first demand payment from your spouse, then attempt to recover from your spouse’s assets. Only then, if your indebted spouse is unable to satisfy the debt, can the creditor seek the expense from you.

Responsibility for the payments of debts under the law of necessities can be a complicated subject. Many aspects of the law are unclear, such as whether a debt is considered a “necessity” or not. If you have any questions pertaining to the debt’s of your spouse or the law of necessities in New Jersey, please call Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. immediately. He can be reached at 855-376-5291 or by email at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com/

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