Who Gets Stuck With the Credit Card Debt in Divorce?

Nov 01, 2023

With Americans amassing over $1 trillion in credit card debt, you are not alone if you find yourself holding the proverbial bag during or at the end of your divorce.

You may be wondering who is liable for the debt, how that is decided, and what you can do to protect yourself and your financial future. Let's try to sort that out!

How Debt Gets Assigned

Some of this depends on the state you live in. Nine states are known as "common law" states, and that means that everything belongs to both of you. No matter whose name is on the credit card, you're both equally liable for the debt. It doesn't matter if the card was in his name and you knew nothing about it. (On the other hand, you do have recourse if he used that secret credit card for an affair or gambling or other shenanigans. That's a separate article.)

In the other 41 states, you're most likely going to be responsible for the following debts:

  • A credit card that is solely in your name
  • Jointly held credit cards that list both you and your spouse as account holders
  • A credit card for your spouse that you co-signed on, even if you are not listed as an account holder

Unfortunately, you can't simply remove yourself from jointly held cards and any debts you have co-signed. Until the debt has been paid in full, you will both continue to be held liable for the debt. 

A Judge Can Assign Debt to You

During your divorce proceedings, the judge has the ability to assign debt to you even if the debt is not in your name. You and your husband may go through and negotiate who is paying certain debts, and that might not be the same as whose name is on a debt. The judge could also do the same thing, and order you to pay a debt in your husband's name, and vice versa.

The catch here is that the creditor doesn't care what the judge has to say about the debts. The judge may order your husband to pay a credit card that just has your name on it. But if he doesn't pay, and your name is the only one on the account, the credit card company is going to come after you and you alone.

This is why it's important to try to get your husband to refinance debts to get them in his name only if he's going to be responsible for paying them. Getting your name off debts is the best way to go. (I know that's often very difficult, and sometimes impossible.)

Divorce and Your Credit

To protect your credit, it is important to keep an eye on payments on credit card debt and other forms of debt that are on your credit report. Be prepared to make payments on debts that are in your name if you want to preserve your credit score.

If your ex-husband doesn't pay a debt that he is supposed to pay under the marital settlement agreement, you can sue him. But of course, going to court again can get expensive.

While divorce itself does not show up on your credit report and does not impact your score directly, for many families, divorce will bring financial hardship. Women experience a significant drop in their standard of living after divorce, and so many complicated financial issues are involved.

Staying on top of and being aware of your debt, while taking proactive steps to pay it down will be key to building a financial future for yourself and your family. 

Steps to Take

  • Confirm your ex-spouse is no longer an authorized user on your accounts 
  • Close accounts that have both of your names on them to stop him from incurring debt that you could be responsible
  • Monitor your credit regularly
  • Get in touch with your creditors about converting your accounts to an individual account during your divorce to protect your credit

It's common to have a lot of questions about money during your divorce. Get our list of the top 10 questions you should ask your divorce attorney about the money.

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