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In Good Times and in Debt: The Evolution of Marital Agency and the Meaning of Marriage


Marie T. Reilly


Penn State University - Dickinson School of Law

April 21, 2008


Abstract:     
A married person sometimes acts solely for herself and at other times on behalf of her spouse. If she incurs debt solely for herself, then only she is liable to the creditor. If, however, she incurs debt both for herself and on behalf of her spouse, both are liable - the debtor directly and the spouse indirectly by imputed liability. Before married women's property reform, imputed marital liability followed from marital status. As marriage changed to recognize the legal individuality of both spouses, so too did the scope of a spouse's imputed liability for the debts of the other spouse. Today, the scope of a spouse's imputed liability for the debts of an insolvent spouse defines an important and largely unexamined aspect of what it means to be married. Despite change in the terms of marriage between the parties, courts continue to view imputed marital liability with sensitivity to the historical privilege of marital investment and the unique social value of trust and dependency within marriage.

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Date posted: April 22, 2008 ; Last revised: March 16, 2010

Suggested Citation

Reilly, Marie T., In Good Times and in Debt: The Evolution of Marital Agency and the Meaning of Marriage (April 21, 2008). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1123612 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1123612

Contact Information

Marie T. Reilly (Contact Author)
Penn State University - Dickinson School of Law ( email )
113 Beam Building
University Park, PA 16820
United States
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