It may seem cold to suggest that couples considering marriage examine what their mutual debt-load will be after they marry as part of the process, but it is a fact that the debt belonging to one partner will affect the other throughout and, if it comes to it, after marriage. While I am not a family law attorney and do not handle divorce cases, I do encounter the issues created by pre-marital debt quite often in my work as a bankruptcy attorney. Both married couples and couples considering both marriage and divorce have many questions about the debt accrued by each partner individually, before and during the marriage, and by the couple as a unit during the marriage. For those in the not-yet-married category, by far the most common question I am asked is whether a partner, through marriage, will become legally liable for his or her partner’s pre-marital debt after marriage.
Michigan, unlike common property states like California, is an equitable distribution state, which, in terms of assets belonging to marital partners, means, for divorce purposes, that a judge will decide what assets belong to each divorcing partner equitably. Typically, under this system, property belonging to a marital property prior to the marriage is held to belong wholly to that partner after the marriage, even if the partners cohabitated before marrying. There are many caveats and special circumstances altering this rule, but, in Michigan, this is the case generally.
Likewise, with regard to pre-marital debt, debts incurred wholly by one partner prior to the marriage will belong to that partner after divorce. Debts which are incurred during the course of the marriage, however, are joint debts, generally, regardless of whose name is attached to it. In Michigan, these debts will, like joint-assets, be divided equitably by the court according on the basis of such considerations as the length of marriage, child support requirements, and the level of financial contribution to the marriage by each partner, among many others.
Generally, then, a partner considering marriage needn’t worry about shouldering his or her fiancee’s pre-marital debt (unless they contribute to it or work to detract from it during the course of the marriage). However, that does not mean that there are no further implications of that debt upon the health of the marriage. Struggling with an overabundance of debt is the reason that many marriages fail. If one partner, prior to marriage, is overwhelmed by debt, it is possible that filing for bankruptcy prior to marrying will allow not only that partner to move forward and reconstruct his or her financial health but will also allow the marriage to get started out on solid footing.
A new marriage is by definition a shaky, uncertain thing. If you are a southeast Michigan resident considering marrying but are concerned about the effect your debt-load may have on your future spouse or your marriage in general, please contact me at (866) 674-2317 or firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a free, initial consultation.