Speaking strictly from a legal perspective, the State of Texas treats marriage like a business partnership—you share the income and liabilities during the partnership equally. For better or worse, literally.
Just like in a business partnership, if your business partner opens up a company credit card without your knowledge or permission, the partnership will still be on the hook for the liability. Conversely, if you have an awesome business partner that landed big deal worth tens of thousands of dollars for the partnership, you will equally share the benefit—lucky you.
Remember, just like in a business partnership, you are “getting into bed with this person” in the legal sense—you choose to make important life and legal decisions with the person you married. Consider this the next time you go on a date—is this someone I trust making important legal decisions with and wouldn’t mind be legally liable for their actions?
What does that mean, being legally liable for their actions? Let’s take the credit card example since that’s a common one. Ask yourself, “do I trust this person to not drag me into credit card debt without my knowledge or consent?” Also consider this, do you trust your spouse to handle the finances if something happened to you and you could not manage them, for let’s say, 6 months? If the thought of your spouse handling all the finances for 6 months scares you, then that’s a red flag. No, your marriage isn’t over, but it’s a signal that things need to change—you both need to be working as a team in handling the finances.
The State of Texas does not delve into the religious or spiritual implications of marriage, nor does it want to. The simple idea is this: when you and your spouse get married, y’all become a legal team. Simply speaking, y’all are legal partners. The state expects y’all to take care of one another (so y’all don’t end up on welfare asking the State to take care of you). It’s a rather unglamorous and self-interested reason, but the State of Texas expects y’all to care for each other because you have a legal obligation to do so. It’s an obligation you chose to take on the moment you both said, “I do.”
This principle is especially clear when a couple goes through a divorce. Many people would argue that it’s not fair to split a community estate 50/50 when only one spouse was the breadwinner and the other stayed at home. However, the State views the dissolution of marriage differently. The State would argue that you “signed up for the marriage” and thus took on a legal obligation to your spouse—this principle applies to both spouses. What you and your spouse decided to do for the responsibilities of finances, chores, etc. no longer matters. The bottom line is that the partnership is breaking up and you both have an equal interest in all the income, assets, and debts acquired during your partnership.
There are numerous factors that can make an inequitable division of community property (called Murff factors), but the basic starting point for every divorcing couple is 50/50 in a community property state like Texas. Moreover, the above principles change drastically if the couple has a pre-nup—in case you even needed another reason to get one.
Generally speaking, consider the legal implications of marrying your spouse. While there are many wonderful benefits to marriage, keep in mind the legal obligations you are taking on when choosing your partner. Many people marry a person for the wrong reasons (looks, status, money, etc.) but remember to ask yourself whether you want that person to have the authority to create a joint liability on your behalf, even if it’s without your knowledge. Do you really trust your spouse financially?
For more information on community assets and debts, visit our website pfdallas.com or give us a call at 214-494-9916.