Ordinarily, you would think that your spouse’s bank account(s) or paychecks cannot be used to satisfy a creditor or debt collector’s Judgment against you for unpaid debt. However, this is not always the case, at least in California. It all depends on whether your spouse’s wages or accounts are considered community property (or not).
California is a community property state. This means that the law presumes any property acquired or wages earned by you and your spouse during your marriage belong to both of you. Your interest in community property is called your community property interest.
The law allows creditors and other parties who have obtained a court judgment against you to garnish or place liens on the majority of any property you own, which includes your community property interest. This is true, even if the account garnished is in your spouse’s name only.
However, it is important to note that your interest in community property only extends to assets acquired while you and your spouse were married. Therefore, judgment creditors cannot access funds your spouse earned or owned prior to your marriage, so long as: (1) the assets are held in a separate account in your spouse’s name only, and (2) you (or your spouse) do not comingle, or mix/combine these assets with community or your own, separate property.
Property that is not community property, but belongs to you or your spouse, individually, is separate property. In addition to assets that predate the marriage, are held separately and not commingled; inheritances left to either spouse, even if the right to the inheritance vests while you are married, will remain the property of the spouse to whom the gift is left.
Likewise, if you can trace certain assets or certain sums of money back to a separate, independent source, then you may be able to establish that the property is separate property. However, this process can be extremely difficult and complex the longer you commingle assets.
In order to protect you or your spouse’s assets or wages that you don’t want left open to judgment creditors, you should consider placing them in a separate account right away and consult with an experienced debtors’ rights attorney.
If a judgment creditor is coming after you or your spouse’s property, you need the help of an experienced debtor rights attorney—like those at Fitzgerald Campbell—to review your case and discuss your options with you. Our attorneys have decades of experience representing clients in all types of debtor defense cases, including enforcement cases, and we are here to help you!