The Illinois Family Expense Act requires spouses to accept liability for each other's debts if they occurred during the course of the marriage and were related to promoting the general welfare of the family. Judges have interpreted this law in various ways, however; if your spouse owes money, you may or may not be liable. This act pertains only to married couples who live together; so in some cases, you may no longer be liable even if you and your spouse are not yet legally divorced.
If your spouse has accrued debts that were used to further the general welfare of the family, you will be required to accept liability for these expenses. That being said, this rule only applies to married couples who live together.
Joint Liability for Family Expenses
Illinois law holds both marriage partners responsible for family expenses – goods and services bought for family use or to improve the entire family's life. For example, if one spouse purchases a prescription medication for one of the children using store credit, the other spouse may be liable for the bill because the purchase promoted the welfare of a family member.
No Liability for Borrowed Money
While the Illinois courts may consider purchases to be family expenses, loans of money generally are not. Thus, if a spouse takes out a personal loan, the other spouse is not liable for it even if the spouse used the loaned money to purchase goods or services for the family. For example, if a spouse takes out a loan of $100,000 and uses that loan to pay medical bills, the other spouse is not liable for the loan if the borrower-spouse defaults. However, if either spouse fails to pay the medical bills themselves, the other spouse may be liable.
Different Rules for Separated Spouses
The Family Expense Act only applies to spouses who are living together, as you are not raising a family together if you live separately. Thus, if you and your spouse legally separate, you are not responsible for each other's bills after the separation, even if some of those bills were to support the needs of other family members, such as children. If you and your spouse were not living together at the time your spouse defaulted on a bill, such as the utility bill, it should therefore not stop you from opening service in your own name.
What to Do About A Spouse's Debt
If a creditor contacts you about a bill your spouse ran up, ascertain whether the debt occurred during the course of your marriage. If it did, you may need to contact an attorney to resolve the issue. If the bill occurred after a separation, send proof of the separation to the creditor so that he will stop bothering you. If this doesn't work, contact an attorney. In the case of utility bills, you can also contact the Illinois Commerce Commission for assistance.
Jack Ori has been a writer since 2009. He has worked with clients in the legal, financial and nonprofit industries, as well as contributed self-help articles to various publications.