Am I Responsible for My Spouse’s Debts After Separation But Before Divorce?

When separating from your married spouse, the critical dates for calculating property division are the dates of marriage and the date of separation. You do not share in your assets or liabilities after separation except in specific, and uncommon situations (some of which are described here. However, if your spouse runs up a joint debt (e.g. takes money out of a joint line of credit), you are still liable for that because you signed a contract with the bank that says you would repay all the money borrowed on that account. Also, if your spouse runs up debt to pay for the necessities of life, section 45 of the Family Law Act says that he can incur that debt in your name. That does not happen often. If your soon-to-be ex does not fall into one of those two categories, then he is probably committing fraud… which will cause him a lot of trouble.

If you have a joint line of credit or other debt, you may want to close it or freeze it before your spouse can borrow money on it, for which the bank may hold you responsible. However, banks are often reluctant to freeze an account if both parties to the account do not agree. So, if you have a joint line of credit or a joint credit card, you should get in to see a lawyer as soon as possible so that you are not suddenly burdened by unexpected debt that you know nothing about. Good family law lawyers know the steps to take with the bank.

Of course, if you do leave your ex with no money to live off after separation, you may find yourself in court very quickly as your spouse seeks child support or spousal support. Judges do not like it when the spouse with the money leaves the other spouse with none – even less if the kids live with the spouse with no money. The judge may make a large child support and spousal support order that leaves the spouse with money wishing they had just handed over the credit card on separation.

It is time that you started the process of getting a separation agreement, and then a divorce, to finalize things between you and your ex.

For more information about what to do when you separate from your spouse, you should get a copy of this easy-to-understand best-selling book about Ontario Family Law. It explains how the law applies to your question and many other questions in greater detail. It also has a lot of tips about how to keep yourself out of trouble after separating and how to avoid choices you may regret.

However, the best way to get advice specific to your situation (because little facts can make a big difference!) is to contact a good family law lawyer. The Law Society of Upper Canada has certified John Schuman as a specialist in Family Law. You can reach him using the form below, or by calling the phone number at the top of the page. You can also use the form below to comment on this page. 

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John Schuman Guide to the Basics of Ontario Family Law book cover

You can get a lot more information about Ontario Family Law issues, including a comprehensive explanation of parenting cases (parenting time and decision making), child support, spousal support, property division, and most other common family law issues by downloading this $9.99 Kindle eBook, Kobo eBook, or iBook for your iPad or iPhone or ordering it from Amazon as a paperback. But to understand how the law works precisely in your situation, it is always best to speak to a good Family Law Lawyer.

To comment on this article, or to contact John Schuman, please use the form below.

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