Before the marriage, presumably the car loan is in the other person's
name only. At that point, the lender can obviously only go after that
person for payment.
After marriage in California, there is the legal concept of "Separate
Property" and "Community Property". If the car loan were community
property, then you would also be liable for repayment.
The distinction mostly revolves around when the property was acquired.
In general, community property is only that which is/was acquired
during the term of the marriage:
"Community Property - Assets and debts acquired during the term of the
marriage except by gift or inheritance/devise or special rules
Separate Property - Assets and debts brought to the marriage, etc.,
unless transmutated (changed) into Community Property."
Note that the transmutation mentioned above only happens when the
parties explicitly agree to it in writing:
"Transmutation of Property. A married couple may by agreement or
transfer do any of the following: (a) transmute community property to
separate property of either spouse; (b) transmute separate property of
either spouse to community property; and (c) transmute separate
property of one spouse to separate property of the other spouse. For
the transmutation to be effective, it must be in a writing and include
an express declaration that is made, joined in, consented to or
accepted by the spouse who is giving up an interest due to the
If you ended the marriage before the lender tried to extract blood,
the car loan would be ruled as separate property (CA Fam Code 2621),
and that would be the end of it.
If you stay married, you can still be okay, even though any money you
earn during the marriage is considered community property and
community property is liable for separate property debts.
California Family Code section 911 is the reason:
"911. (a) The earnings of a married person during marriage are not
liable for a debt incurred by the person's spouse before marriage.
After the earnings of the married person are paid, they remain not
liable so long as they are held in a deposit account in which the
person's spouse has no right of withdrawal and are uncommingled with
other property in the community estate, except property insignificant
(click "FAMILY.CODE SECTION 910-916")
Follow the advice therein, and you should be safe.
There is the little issue of you being liable for community debts,
even out of your separate property, which could be a general problem
if your spouse runs out of money completely (and therefore may incur
community debts), but you would still not be liable for the separate
debt of the car loan.
Of course, the lender may still *try* to come after you...
Also note that there is the odd possibility of your spouse
"refinancing" the car loan by taking out a second loan to pay off the
first, in which case you would may be liable for that second loan.
Searchable California Family Code:
http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/calaw.html , check "Family Code"
Search terms: california marriage common property separate property