We got this question from a San Diego husband and father a few days back:
“Am I responsible for my wife’s unscrupulous spending and credit card and loan debts that are in her name?”
Unfortunately, the Court does not focus on whose name is on the card; instead, it treats both you and your wife’s spending as one community, and if she ran up the debt before you were separated, then there aren’t too many options.
Because California is a community property state, the general rule is that the Court will equally split both your property and your debts. Any debts that you have accrued while you are married will be considered community debts.
However, the family code does allow for certain exceptions if her spending was not for the “benefit of the community.” § 2625 states:
All separate debts, including those debts incurred by a spouse during marriage and before the date of separation that were not incurred for the benefit of the community, shall be confirmed without offset to the spouse who incurred the debt.
Because you say that her spending was frivolous, you may be able to claim that her expenses were not for the “benefit of the community.” Unfortunately, in practice, this argument is very hard to win. While you may argue that her clothing purchases and spa trips did not benefit the community, she can respond that her mental health, appearance, and well-being are all important considerations of the community.
It’s ultimately a court decision, but unless she embarked on a Blu Cantrell style revenge spending spree, the Court will likely divvy up the debt between the two of you.
As for the loan debts, timing is important. If she ran up these debts before you were married, then the Court will assign the debt to her. As § 2621 states, “debts incurred by either spouse before the date of marriage shall be confirmed without offset to the spouse who incurred the debt.”
If she runs up a debt after you separated, the Court will look at whether or not the debt is for the “common necessaries of life.” Common bills like phone, power, and water will be equally divided, while your wife will be required to pay for her post-separation trip to Vegas.