Texas Community Property Laws Regarding Debts

By Beverly Bird
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Texas does things a little differently when it comes to dividing marital debts in a divorce. In other community property states, when you acquire a debt during your marriage, even if you do so under your name alone, the marital community is responsible for paying it. Both you and your spouse are liable. But in Texas, which party owes the debt depends on how you contracted for it and what you purchased.

Joint Debts

Some marital debts are clearly community liabilities. If you and your spouse sign jointly for an auto loan, a mortgage, or even a credit card, you're both responsible for paying the debt. If one spouse is assigned payment of such a debt in a divorce decree, this doesn't change its contractual nature. Both spouses are still on the hook with the lender, regardless of what the decree says. If neither of you pay it, the lender can get a judgment and place a lien against any of your jointly owned community property as well as property you own separately, such as premarital assets, gifts made solely to you, or an inheritance left to you alone.

Debts for Necessities

The law regarding debts taken out by one spouse alone during marriage is more complicated. Although other community property states identify all such accounts as marital debts if they're incurred during the marriage, this is not the case in Texas. The loan or account must meet certain criteria before state law considers it a marital debt. For example, the marital community is legally responsible for debts taken out for necessities for either spouse, such as food, shelter, clothing and some medical care. If you have a credit card in your name alone, and if you use it to fund a trip to Europe for yourself – but not your spouse – it's your sole debt, no matter when it was incurred. If you use the card to purchase groceries, this is a community debt. Elective or cosmetic surgery typically is not a community debt.

Authorized Debts

A debt incurred solely by one spouse can also become a community debt if the other spouse authorized it. For example, if you instruct your spouse to take out a loan for something you personally need, it's a community liability even if he does so in his sole name. If you have a credit card in your name and you add your spouse as an authorized user, you authorize purchases he makes and the account becomes a community debt. Your community assets are vulnerable to liens resulting from non-payment of community debts.

Sole Debts

Unless issues of necessities or authorization are present, any debt you incur by yourself during the marriage is your separate responsibility. It doesn't morph into a joint debt in Texas simply because you're married when you take on the liability. In a divorce, these debts would typically be assigned to you for payment. If one of these creditors sues you for non-payment, the lender can reach your separate property, community property you own with your spouse, and your special community property.

Special community property is a concept somewhat unique to Texas; it represents assets that would have been your separate property if you and your spouse had not tied the knot. Examples of special community property include interest or income produced from assets you acquired before you got married. If you die leaving debts in your name only, your estate can liquidate your separate property, your special community property and community property to pay them.