“I am separated 2 months ago. Not legal but my wife packed her bags and moved out of state to her mom’s. She stripped out my bank account to the point where I had to pay a few hundred in overdraft fees. She ran her phone bill up to 900 dollars in one month of .49 cents a minute charges. I am paying my way out of that. The final straw was last week when I checked my credit. It is loaded with her medical bills. I never signed anything saying I would pay her medical bills. Her medical policy is through my work but not through my account. It was set up as she was a separate employee not set up as a spouse. Could you please tell me what to do. She has many thousand in medical bills on my credit report and they are listed as joint accounts by the collection agency.”
You mention four distinct things: 1) Bank account; 2) Overdraft fees; 3) Phone bill; 4) Medical bills. I’ll answer using California law.
Here are a few California laws we’ll use in our analysis:
760. Except as otherwise provided by statute, all property, real or personal, wherever situated, acquired by a married person during the marriage while domiciled in this state is community property.
Family Code Section 771. (a) The earnings and accumulations of a spouse and the minor children living with, or in the custody of, the spouse, while living separate and apart from the other spouse, are the separate property of the spouse.
914. (a) Notwithstanding Section 913, a married person is personally liable for the following debts incurred by the person’s spouse during marriage: (1) A debt incurred for necessaries of life of the person’s spouse while the spouses are living together. (2) Except as provided in Section 4302, a debt incurred for common necessaries of life of the person’s spouse while the spouses are living separately. (b) The separate property of a married person may be applied to the satisfaction of a debt for which the person is personally liable pursuant to this section. If separate property is so applied at a time when nonexempt property in the community estate or separate property of the person’s spouse is available but is not applied to the satisfaction of the debt, the married person is entitled to reimbursement to the extent such property was available.
Family Code Section 2622. (a) Except as provided in subdivision (b), debts incurred by either spouse after the date of marriage but before the date of separation shall be divided as set forth in Sections 2550 to 2552, inclusive, and Sections 2601 to 2604, inclusive.
Family Code Section 2623. Debts incurred by either spouse after the date of separation but before entry of a judgment of dissolution of marriage or legal separation of the parties shall be confirmed as follows:(a) Debts incurred by either spouse for the common necessaries of life of either spouse or the necessaries of life of the children of the marriage for whom support may be ordered, in the absence of a court order or written agreement for support or for the payment of these debts, shall be confirmed to either spouse according to the parties’ respective needs and abilities to pay at the time the debt was incurred. (b) Debts incurred by either spouse for nonnecessaries of that spouse or children of the marriage for whom support may be ordered shall be confirmed without offset to the spouse who incurred the debt.
So . . . 1) Bank account: If the money in the account was earned during the marriage it is Community Property and it should have been split in half (FC 760). If it was earned after separation, it all should have been yours (FC 771).
2) Overdraft charges: If the overdrafts were your fault, FC 2623 would have them all go to you if they were incurred after separation. A family court is a court of equity, and it can order some other division based on relative circumstances and ability to pay. If they were incurred prior to separation then the debt is community and owed by both of you (FC 2623).
3) Phone Bill: Sounds like this occurred after separation, so this should be wife’s separate debt (FC2623). As with the Overdraft charges, if you already paid these you may be entitled to reimbursement.
4) Medical bills: If these were are necessities of life bills incurred during the marriage then you are both on the hook (FC 914). Even if some of the bills occurred after separation there may be way for the medical provider to come after you, though you may be entitled to reimbursement from other property. If we’re talking about elective procedures, then that likely inures just to wife’s benefit, and she may be liable for the full amount.
Ask yourself: Is the cost of litigating greater or less than the cost of paying the bills and moving on? If greater, consider paying and chalking it up to experience. If less, then a complete and accurate division may be worth pursuing. Like the mouse said . . . “Keep the cheese, I just want out of the trap.”