By Dorothy Bunce
Summer is getting closer, and summer is the official wedding season. Sure, more people actually get married on Valentines Day or on New Years Eve, but the wedding season is June and July. August not so much.
Weddings are about love, and love and marriage go together like, well, you know. And while the cost of a wedding can break the bank, what about afterwards?
While most people know that Nevada is a community property state, besides believing “what’s yours is mine, and mine is yours,” few people understand the laws about marriage, money and debts. Ouch! What a romantic-mood-killing thought!
Even so, when the bad things happen, as eventually they will, it helps to understand how marriage and debt walk down the wedding aisle.
First, the good news. Community property does not require you to be responsible for any of your partner’s debts before you were married. Marriage does not make you legally responsible for most kinds of debts your spouse makes during the marriage in his or her own name alone. Creditors cannot sue you to force you to pay your spouse’s student loans, credit card debts, car loans or other debts in his or her name alone. In addition, if your spouse has bad credit, the bad credit usually will not affect your credit unless you foolishly apply for credit together. Applying for credit together may cause the bad credit information from your spouse’s account to merge onto your credit and damage your credit score. Although there are ways to repair this damage, it can be a time-consuming and frustrating process that should be avoided by not taking the unnecessary risk of applying for joint credit.
However, with the good news comes the bad news. If a creditor obtains a court judgment against your spouse, any joint assets, such as bank accounts, real estate, or other property purchased together can be seized by law enforcement to pay the judgment of the other spouse. If you put property into joint names, be very careful if your spouse has unpaid debts because your income, your savings, and your property can be taken to pay your spouse’s court judgment if your spouse’s name is on the title. The reason why your spouse’s name is on the title to your property is unimportant. If your spouse (or any one else’s) name is on the title, he or she is considered to be a co-owner of the property. A creditor can act to take all co-owned property even if you were not responsible for the debt.
More bad news! Those wedding vows said you took each other “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” In most states, including Nevada, that means that husbands and wives are responsible for paying for the necessities of each other. The most obvious and costly necessity someone can have is medical debt. If you are married and have been separated from your spouse for 50 years and your spouse receives medical care, you will be financially responsible, even if the debt is for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The fact that you are married could also prevent your spouse from being eligible for medical benefits in the event of a medical crisis. Many couples have been forced to get divorced so Medicare will provide coverage for a nursing home or hospital stay when a dreadful medical event occurs. Before getting married, talk about the cost of cancer care, treating heart disease, and what will happen if either party to a marriage has dementia and is not able to make decisions for themselves. More importantly, before getting married, don’t turn a blind eye to the cost of love and marriage. You can’t live in a fantasy world of floral arrangements, wedding cake and beautiful gowns!