Under normal circumstances, a debt collector can contact the wife of a debtor in an attempt to collect a debt. This can be averted, to an extent, if legal precautions are taken ahead of time, by arrangement in a divorce or custody proceeding. It is also possible to prevent contact by debt collectors if privacy information is carefully protected.
A wife is not typically responsible for her husband's debt incurred before marriage. However, debts incurred during marriage are another story. Legally, marriage is generally interpreted as a union of two people. This union is typically seen as a partnership, financially and in all other ways. Some defence may be provided if only one partner's name is on the debt; however, many states have community property laws that make all debts joint even if only one party applied for them.
Prenuptial agreements are the best way to provide protection against the debts of a spouse. Even these are not foolproof, and creditors may challenge them in court if it comes to that, but a properly constructed prenuptial agreement will protect the wife in most cases. It is important, though, in an agreement to keep finances separate, that finances be kept separate. Joint credit, bank or investment accounts, as well as joint mortgages and other forms of loans, will be considered joint, whatever the agreement says.
Separation and Divorce
When couples separate or divorce, so do their finances. First, the separation agreement and later the divorce agreement will decide which debts and finances belong to whom. Typically, any property or debt that is in the name of only one party will be seen as belonging to that party in the divorce. After this is finalised, a wife has no responsibility for the debts of her ex-husband. This includes debts incurred before, during and after marriage.
Collection agencies are not obligated to tell debtors what their rights and responsibilities are. If collection agents are calling, it is a good idea to look up state and local laws governing what they can and cannot do. If the debt is large, speaking with a credit counsellor may also help. Credit counsellors typically do not charge debtors for their services. It is also important to protect personal privacy. If a wife's name and Social Security number are not on a credit account, debt collectors have very limited legal means to find out who that person is.