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What to Do If Your Spouse Drinks and Drives

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on December 03, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Marriage is complicated, and the two of you are intricately entwined, both spiritually and legally. Though it can be hard to control or even influence your spouse, if your spouse drinks and drives, you could be liable for their actions, the extent to which depends on the laws in your state.

If you can't talk any moral sense into your spouse about drinking and driving, consider talking dollars and cents. Learn how you can be liable and what you can do to protect yourself.

Community Property -- the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

When a spouse in a community property state claims they own half of everything acquired during a marriage, barring a few legal issues, sometimes they forget that means everything, both assets and debts. Any debt incurred while you are married belongs to the community estate, meaning both spouses are liable for the debt acquired by either spouse during the marriage, including student loans, credit card debt, and legal judgments. If your spouse drinks and drives, hurts someone, and is sued, you could lose everything acquired during the marriage.

Other Causes of Action Entwining Your Fates

Even if you don't live in a community property state, and therefore income and debts are separate, a plaintiff pursuing payment on a lawsuit judgment against your spouse may be able to go after assets you own together, such as a house, car, or boat. Another way in which you could be liable is if your spouse used your car in an accident, and you knew or should have known your spouse may drink and drive, yet didn't deprive your spouse of access to your car. This is called negligent entrustment, and you could be held personally liable for the harm caused in an accident of the drunk driving spouse.

How to Protect Yourself

Since this isn't a psychology or morality blog, let's skip to the part about how to legally protect yourself. If you want to stay married but need to protect your assets, there are a few steps you can take.

If you live in a community property state, consider filing for legal separation. This will stop the accumulation of community property, and any liabilities incurred after the legal separation document is filed with the state will not be your responsibility. Note, however, that still leaves joint ownership and negligent entrustment issues. You may be able to take your spouse's name off of the title of any joint property, but this may not be possible in all instances, depending on mortgage, insurance, and other issues, including your ability to get your spouse's signature. As for negligent entrustment, there are not many ways to avoid this other than hiding your car keys.

Drunk driving is a very serious issue, and a prevalent one during the holiday season. If you are concerned at all about your spouse's tendency to drink and drive, please get help. Get your spouse some addiction help, get the two of you some marital help, and get yourself some legal advice. If you are interested in changing title to your home, contact a local real estate attorney.

If you're interested in creating a legal separation agreement, contact a local divorce attorney. And if you find yourself involved in a negligent entrustment lawsuit, contact a local car accident attorney. As you can see, if your spouse drinks and drives, you may end up needing your own attorney.

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