Is Husband Responsible for Wife's Car Payments After Saying She Is Divorcing?

By Travis Gray, J.D.

Is Husband Responsible for Wife's Car Payments After Saying She Is Divorcing?

By Travis Gray, J.D.

One of the most basic aspects of divorce proceedings is to divvy up the marital debt between the soon-to-be ex-spouses. And if you were making a car payment for your wife's vehicle before the two of you decided to separate, it might not be so easy to drop that payment. Whether you will be required to continue making payments will depend on a few factors. If both you and your wife signed a contract for the vehicle, your creditor may hold you responsible regardless of what the court rules. But even if you aren't on the note, the court may order you to continue making the payments during the course of the divorce proceeding or even after the divorce is finalized.

Frustrated man looking at table with calculator, phone, laptop, and papers

While a final divorce decree can be modified, your best chance to obtain a favorable outcome in your divorce comes during the initial divorce proceeding. Protecting your rights during your divorce is much easier than amending your divorce decree down the line.

Divorce Decrees Cannot Override a Contract

No matter the result of your divorce decree, your creditors are free to attempt to collect what they are owed from any party that signed the auto loan. That's because your divorce decree can't supersede a contract you entered into with a lender.

In other words, the auto lender can sue you for failing to pay off the car loan even if the court ruled that your spouse was responsible for the entire debt. It is typically a good idea to refinance the vehicle so it is no longer in your name.

Effect of Divorce Decree on Auto Loan

A divorce can be costly even when you're limited to the debts for which you are personally responsible. However, in some cases you may find the court ordering you to make payments for debt for which your spouse was solely responsible. And if you don't pay, you could wind up being held in contempt.

Joint vs. Separate Property

All debt can be characterized as either jointly or separately held. A joint debt is one in which you and your spouse are both responsible. An example for this would be a car loan that is signed by both of you. But separate debt is a debt for which only one spouse is responsible. Typically, that includes debts one spouse brought into the marriage. When it comes to joint debts, your divorce decree will ultimately determine who is responsible for what part of the debt. But in most cases, separate debts and separate property remain the sole responsibility of the spouse who owns it.

Whether debt acquired during the course of the marriage is considered to be joint debt depends on the laws of your state. In some states, known as community property states, all assets and debts obtained during the marriage are held to be owned jointly. This means that if your spouse bought a car during the marriage and was the only name on the note, you are still part owner of the vehicle and responsible for keeping up those payments.

While the laws can vary across state lines significantly, the important thing to remember is that if you are bound by either a contract or a court order to pay for your wife's vehicle and you fail to pay, there will be consequences.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.