Question 24: 
How will we handle debts?

Default answer:  When people marry, each partner becomes responsible
for the debts of the other—no matter how those debts were acquired,
when they were acquired, and who originally agreed to pay them.
The marriage partnership becomes legally one debtor.
And they will remain responsible for each other's debts
until they are relieved of that responsibility by a divorce decree.
If and when they become separate persons once again,
the judge will decide which debts belong to which persons.
And a legal notice will be published stating explicitly
that these two people who used to be married (and hence were one debtor)
have once again become separate persons financially
and will not longer be responsible for each other's debts.

     The death of one's spouse does not relieve the surviving spouse
of the debts incurred by one's now-dead spouse.
Pre-marriage debts of one's spouse as well as debts incurred during marriage
by either spouse (or both together) are still owed by the surviving spouse.
Death ends the marriage, but not the debts.

     Some couples whose marriage has ended for all other practical purposes
—they no longer live together and they will eventually divorce—
sometimes find themselves surprised to be asked to pay a spouse's debts.
For example, when the IRS could not collect taxes from one spouse,
it often required the other spouse to pay,
because they were legally one person for the purpose of taxation.
Sometimes years after they thought they were finished with each other
they found themselves called upon to pay the taxes not paid by the other.
Because of complaints about this practice, it was eventually changed.
But if you want to avoid ever being charged for the debts of your ex-spouse,
make sure your divorce is legal and final.

     The largest debt shared by a married couple is probably a mortgage.
Because a mortgage on your house is such a major issue,
it has been discussed separately [Question 21].

     If you are marrying young,
you might have considerable debts from college and graduate school.
If you marry, these formerly-individual debts
become debts to be paid by the partnership.
And if payments begin to lag behind the agreed schedule,
the assets and income of both spouses can be taken by creditors.

Question 24:              HOW WILL WE HANDLE DEBTS?              by James Park              127

Above you have the first page of Question 24 from Designer Marriage.
This page gives a taste of the kinds of questions addressed in the next 11 pages about debts.

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Designer Marriage: Write Your Own Relationship Contract

Created April 9, 2009; Revised

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