Are Your Responsible For Your Spouse's Debt in Ohio?

Generally, the answer is no.  However, there are a few situations where you can be held liable for your spouse's debt, or you will be directly affected by it.  When any kind of debt is taken out in just one person's name, it is only that person who is liable for the debt. Creditors will try to convince parents and spouses that they are liable for someone else's debt, but if this happens it is generally a lie and you should contact an attorney about possible actions against the creditor.  

When Creditors Can Seize Your Assets to Collect On Your Spouse's Debt

You can be directly affected by your spouse's debts when creditors seize jointly held assets.  In Ohio, if a creditor has a judgment (obtained by filing a lawsuit and winning), they can garnish the debtor's bank accounts or file a lien on all real property owned by the debtor, and foreclose on the real property in order to collect the debt.  

You can be affected by your spouse's debts if you have any joint bank accounts or own any real property jointly with your spouse.  Even though the money in the bank account or the real property is half yours, the creditor can take all of it if necessary to satisfy your spouse's debt.

When Creditors Can Go After You Personally For Your Spouse's Individual Debts

There is a body of law known as the "Doctrine of Necessaries" that is codified as ORC 3103.03.  This law provides that if a married person or a parent neglects to support their spouse or their child, and any other person supplies the neglected spouse or child with necessary support, then that third person can sue the spouse/parent for the reasonable value of support that they provided.  

The Doctrine of Necessaries limits liability to "necessary support," which is usually interpreted to mean things like food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.  What this all means is that if you are unable to provide certain necessary items to your spouse or child, and someone else (or a business) provides those items to your spouse or child, then they can sue you to recover their costs.  

This doctrine originated at a time when women did not really have any rights, and they lacked the right to form contracts- meaning that women were not able to get credit. Thus, when the woman of the house would purchase necessary items such as food and clothing for the household, any merchants who lent the items on credit could not recover their costs unless they could sue the husband for the value of goods provided.   

This has had the effect today of having medical providers who provide care and services to one spouse to go after the other spouse, even though the other spouse never signed anything and never intended to pay for the medical debt of the spouse who incurred the debt.  

This doctrine has been tempered in Ohio with the language that a married person or a parent must provide necessary support to their spouse or child to the extent that they are able to do so from their property or their labor.  This means that if you were unable to pay medical bills at the time your spouse incurred them, then by the law the medical provider should not be able to collect from you.  As a practical concern, the medical provider will still go after you to try to collect on the medical debts of your spouse or child.

If you are having problems with your spouse's or your child's creditors, contact an attorney at Harris & Engler to discuss your options, call (614) 610-9988.  
Columbus Business Law Firm

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