Credit Cards and Divorce

June 26, 2010 | Divorce, Legal Perspective

Icon for author Brian Vertz Brian Vertz

Divorcing spouses often ask me about credit card debts and loans. While a divorce court may assign responsibility for paying credit card debts and loans that were incurred during the marriage, the court generally lacks jurisdiction over the creditors. In other words, the divorce court cannot force the credit card issuer to collect from one particular spouse if both spouses were cardholders.

If both spouses’ names are on the credit card accounts or loans, then creditors may choose to collect from one spouse or the other or both, at their discretion. Surely, the divorce court can hold a spouse in contempt if he or she failed to meet his or her court-ordered responsibility to pay the debts, but that is cold comfort when the other spouse’s credit rating has been ruined and debt collectors are calling on the phone.

My thoughts? (1) Use marital funds to pay off marital debts. The divorce courts may give full credit, partial credit or no credit at all if one spouse uses his or her post-separation earnings to pay marital debt, but the courts will grant full credit if marital assets are used to pay marital debt. (Just be cautious about impairing cash flow for current expenses.) (2) The spouse who has greater income may have a greater ability to pay debts. (3) If the debts are excessive and income is minimal, consider bankruptcy.

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