In community property states, spouses are equally responsible for each other's debts. As of this article's publication, these states are: •Arizona •California •Idaho •Louisiana •Nevada •New Mexico •Texas •Washington •Wisconsin If you live in a community property state, your creditors can garnish your wages for your spouse's debts. The law makes exceptions, however. If your spouse owes child support in California or Washington, for instance, creditors can't garnish your wages to make his payments. You also can sign a prenuptial agreement that says you're not responsible for his debts. If the spousal debt dates back to before your marriage, creditors cannot garnish your wages to pay it.
Common Law States
In common law states, your spouse's debts are normally his debts alone, not yours. Creditors can't garnish your wages for bills your spouse runs up, but there are exceptions. For example, if you co-sign a loan or your spouse puts the debt on your joint credit card, creditors can come after you. Creditors also may be able to collect from you for debts incurred to pay for necessities, such as food and shelter.
Creditors can garnish bank accounts as well as paychecks. If you deposit your paycheck in a joint account with your spouse, it may be vulnerable to his creditors. Washington and California laws say that a joint bank account can be tapped to pay your spouse's child support obligation, but if you can show which part of the money is yours, that cash is off-limits. The vulnerability of joint accounts varies greatly between states.
Limits on Garnishment
Even if the creditor can put the bite on your wages, you still have some protection. If your after-tax wages are less than 30 times the federal minimum wage, your paycheck can't usually be garnished. A creditor can take anything over that figure, or garnish 25 percent of your after-tax earnings, whichever is smaller, according to federal law. Some states protect a higher percentage of wages from garnishment. Even if you have more than one creditor garnishing your paycheck, the total amount usually has to be under these limits.