In economic terms, you and your spouse stopped being two separate people the moment you got married. The other person's earnings and spending habits may not have mattered to you before, but each of you now has a vested interest in the financial life of the other. To really understand your financial rights as a married person, though, you have to turn to the law on what happens when marriage ends.
If you never get divorced, your marriage will eventually end when one of you dies. Whatever assets your spouse owns when he dies immediately become part of his estate and will be distributed to his heirs under the will or your state's laws of intestate succession if your spouse dies without a will. As a surviving spouse, your state probably gives you a right to a percentage of the other party's estate even if he makes a will that leaves everything to charity or his children by a prior marriage. Surviving-spouse rights are set forth in the estate section of your state's code of laws.
Marital Property And Debt Division
Your state's family law code has provisions for the division of marital property upon separation or divorce. Community property states divide marital property and debt equally, whereas equitable distribution states divide it equitably, or fairly. Since equal and fair aren't always the same thing, equitable distribution laws typically include factors for the court to consider when deciding whether to award an unequal division. In both types of jurisdictions, however, property acquired during marriage -- except for gift and inheritance property -- is usually considered marital. Debt acquired during marriage is usually marital, as well. This means that you have rights in the property your spouse acquires during marriage. And you also have responsibility for his debt.
Responsibility For Marital Debt During Marriage
In most states, your spouse's creditors can't come after you for her debts unless your name is also associated with them. While her credit card company may be able to take her motorcycle or seize her car over an unpaid debt, they generally can't take yours. Things work differently, however, in those few states that practice community property. In some of these jurisdictions, creditors can sue you even if you did nothing to incur the debt. The idea there is that since you're married, you're each responsible for each other's debt.
Your state's family law code also has provisions governing the payment of alimony from one party to another when a marriage breaks up. While the law varies from state to state, alimony is typically based upon your standard of living during the marriage as well as the needs and income of each party. This arises from the common law concept that husbands and wives owe each other a duty of support during marriage, and while there may be no statute requiring you to share your incomes while you're together, the idea that "your" money is yours and the other party's money is hers won't be borne out in a court.
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