Love and marriage – the blissfulness of the romance, the wedding day, the honeymoon, the “forever I’m yours” vows… picture perfect! One of the primary tasks for most newlyweds is to begin the merging of assets once they return from the honeymoon. Joint accounts are opened, names are changed, legal documents are updated, and incomes are merged.
But the one thing I always wonder about is what happens to the old debt?
You Say “I do,” but Do You?
I love weddings. I’m a big baby and so I generally tear up throughout the entire ceremony. I think I get so emotional because I strongly believe in what the institution of marriage is all about – the togetherness of two different people joining as one. With the romance aside, I begin to think about how different those two separate lives were before they joined as one, and how those different lives are put to rest. Financially speaking (because I love talking money!), I think about how couples merge debts, or if debts prior to marriage are the responsibility of each spouse?
Of course I wanted to get some answers, so I decided to ask around and see what people thought. I asked a handful of married and non married individuals about debts prior to marriage. All of the people I asked stated they believe once married, all debts prior to marriage should be paid by the couple and is no longer just the responsibility of the individual debtor. It was no longer “his debt” or “her debt” but “our debt”. Pretty noble I think!
I was pleasantly surprised by this survey because I’ve heard and have come across many situations where married couples strongly believe that debts that occurred prior to marriage should be paid by the individual spouse. If you ever listen to Dave Ramsey’s talk show you’d know what I am talking about. I’m not sure if this is a normal thing in American society, or if those callers are a part of a dysfunctional partnership and should not be considered the norm. I’ve personally witnessed married individuals tense up at the thought of the other spouse’s credit card debts or student loans. They quickly respond stating “that’s not my problem”- but should it be?
I’m not an attorney, but I wanted to see if there were any legal matters to consider when it comes to a spouse’s old debts. Doing a quick Google search, I found that a spouse is not legally liable to pay the other spouses debts that were incurred prior to marriage. While I think this is good, I also think about other ways the old debts can have an impact on the marriage. If the debt is not in good standing it could certainly hurt the individual’s credit score. With a credit score in the dumps, it may leave the other spouse holding all of the financial weight when it comes to applying for loans like a mortgage. No bueno!!
Personally, I believe once married all debts, including the old college loan, becomes “our” debt. I even believe if a spouse pays child support from a previous relationship, it should be “we pay child support” instead of “he/ she pays, that’s their problem”. It is very important couples discuss finances BEFORE they walk down the aisle so that they know what’s ahead of them and they are able to create a game plan. I like the idea of sharing and oneness when it comes to marriage (call me old fashion!). I strongly believe once you take the vow and say “I do” you “do” old debts and all.
Guest post by Victoria @ Lend Not Borrow, who discusses all levels of personal finance – from getting out of debt and quick financial tips, to savvy investment strategies. Of course it’s never just all work…there’s always some play! To add spice into the mix, Victoria loves topics that are thought-provoking that gets EVERYONE talking! Opinions are crucial…so share your thoughts!!
(Photo by Corey Leopold)