The hazards of marrying into debt

Relationships, Money

The common misconception about prenups is that they’re only for rich people who want to protect their wealth. The reality is that prenups can build trust between a couple, expand their communication about finances, and protect them from each other’s financial downfalls—and debt.

In a recent study by Avvo on relationships, 58 percent of those surveyed said they do not want to marry into debt. But as Emily Dickinson (and later Selena Gomez) observed, “the heart wants what it wants,” so love often triumphs over money (or the lack thereof). In those cases, a prenup can safeguard you against dollar doom.

“If you marry someone with a lot of their own independent debt, that debt is considered premarital, and is therefore not a marital liability, meaning the spouse is not responsible for it,” says Cydney Bulger, an attorney with The Bulger Firm in Jacksonville, Florida. “However, that can get a little stickier if, later on, marital funds are used to pay down that premarital debt.”

It’s never too late

While a prenuptial agreement would not be required to make the distinction between premarital and marital debts, “In many states, courts have the authority to equitably distribute not only assets but also liabilities,” says Meghan Freed, an attorney with Freed Marcroft in Hartford. A prenuptial agreement can provide clarity, in the event of a divorce, about who is responsible for certain debts. “This is important in the event of a divorce for the obvious reasons, but also may be useful as evidence of the parties’ intent if a lender comes knocking,” says Freed.

You could potentially have a prenup drafted for debt alone, as prenups (and postnups) can be customized to address an item, asset, or obligation. Postnups, in fact, are often drafted specifically to assign debts in case of a divorce.

Instead of thinking of a prenup or postnup as a sign that your relationship is doomed, frame this smart legal choice as a major benefit to your union. “What’s yours is mine, what’s mine is yours” doesn’t have to be taken so literally, especially if it has the potential to tank someone’s credit score or financial foundation.