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How Credit Card Debt Is Handled in a Divorce: Who Is Responsible?

How Credit Card Debt Is Handled in a Divorce: Who Is Responsible?
Susan Guillory
Susan GuilloryUpdated March 4, 2023
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Getting a divorce is stressful enough, but separating your finances and figuring out who owes what can cause even more tension. If you accumulated credit card debt during your marriage, it may complicate things.When it comes to credit card debt in divorce, who is responsible for paying it off can depend on a number of factors. Read on to learn the facts and how to resolve the situation.

Why Credit Cards Can Be a Problem in a Divorce

During your marriage, you probably both used credit cards. And while you may have used credit cards responsibly, if you charged things like household expenses, entertainment like dining out, and individual purchases such as clothes, you likely have some debt to pay off.  When tensions are high during a divorce, there can be a lot of finger-pointing about who’s responsible for that credit card debt.As you go back and forth with your soon-to-be-ex about the debt, it’s possible that neither of you is making payments on it, which means it will continue to rack up interest charges and cost you more over time. It’s important to quickly resolve the issue of credit card debt in divorce to minimize those costs.

Who Is Responsible for Credit Card Debt in a Divorce?

There is no easy answer to this question. Who is responsible for credit card debt in divorce depends on the divorce laws in your state and whose name the debt is in. Each state has its own laws regarding property and debt. Community PropertyIn states that consider debt community property, both spouses are responsible for paying for any debt they incurred during the marriage. Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin all adhere to community property laws.Common LawIn the other states, common law rules say that the spouse who accumulated the debt is responsible for repaying it. This means that credit card debt in your name is solely your responsibility to pay. For joint credit cards in both of your names, you are both responsible for any debt. Also, if you cosigned for a credit card or a loan, even if you didn’t charge anything or use the money, you may still be responsible for repaying it.

Types of Credit Card Debt From a Divorce

Here’s more information about the different types of credit card debt and what it means for you during a divorce.

Credit Card Debt in Your Name Only

Often, each spouse has a credit card in their own name. If you live in a common law state, the debt is yours alone to pay off. However, if you reside in a community property state, you may be responsible for all or half of any credit card debt in your spouse’s name if that debt was incurred during the marriage.

Joint Credit Card Debt

Many married couples have credit cards in both of their names. Whether you live in a common law state or a community property law state, it’s likely that you’ll both have to pay off this debt.

Cosigned Credit Card Accounts

Divorce and credit card debt can get even more complicated when it comes to cosigned credit cards. Sometimes one partner cosigns for a credit card that is primarily in the other’s name. The cosigner may never use the card, but may still be responsible for paying part of the debt on it.

Mortgage Debts

Both spouses are responsible for paying any outstanding mortgage debts. As you work to determine who gets what assets, one of you may be awarded the home you shared. That person may then be required to buy out the other’s equity and refinance the loan under their name alone.

Auto Loan Debt

Typically, each spouse is responsible for the auto loan debt on their own cars. However, a judge may issue what’s called an equalization payment if one vehicle is valued more highly than the other. That means the person with the more expensive car may need to pay a determined amount of money to equal things out.

Medical Debt

In a common law state, you may or may not be responsible for your ex’s medical debts (it depends on the state). However, if you have children, the two of you may very well have to share any medical debt related to their care.Recommended: Credit Counseling: What Is It and How Does It Work

How Will Divorce Affect Your Credit Score?

Getting divorced won’t impact your credit score, but having credit card debt during divorce may affect it. If you still have joint accounts with your ex-spouse and he or she doesn’t pay his or her share of a bill on time, this could negatively impact your credit scoreAs soon as possible, remove yourself as a joint user on any accounts. You may have to pay off the credit card balance first in order to do so, however.  

Guide to Protecting Your Credit During a Divorce

Try to resolve credit card debt in a divorce amicably, if possible. Decide which debts each of you will take on. If you’re overwhelmed with what you owe, consider divorce loans, which can provide you with a lump sum of cash to cover the amount.Work up a budget for paying off the debts you will be responsible for. Pay more than the minimum due each month if you can — this can help lower the amount you’ll pay in interest. And if you plan to take out a personal loan to help cover your debt, find out the timeframe for getting your personal loan payment so you can plan accordingly.If you are trying to figure out your best option for paying off debt, there are other options including a balance transfer credit card. This guide to a personal loan vs. balance transfer credit card could help you figure out what’s best for you.

Am I Responsible for Other Forms of Debt in a Divorce?

Besides credit card debt, any other outstanding debts you and your spouse have, such as a mortgage, car loan, or student loans will all need to be dealt with as part of the divorce.If you aren’t able to pay what you owe right now, there are personal loans to pay off debt that may be helpful.

Can You Use a Personal Loan to Consolidate Credit Card Debt From a Divorce?

Yes, personal loans for debt consolidation can be used for credit card debt. This can simplify things because you’ll have one payment with a loan, instead of paying off multiple cards. You may also pay less in interest with a debt consolidation loan than you’d pay with multiple credit cards.

The Takeaway

In a divorce, you and your soon-to-be ex may both be responsible for credit card debt incurred during the marriage, depending what state you live in and what types of credit card accounts you have. Working with him or her to come up with a plan for handling and paying off that debt may make your divorce more amicable and help protect your credit score.  If you need help paying off what you owe, Lantern by SoFi offers a variety of personal loans that can be used for debt consolidation and personal expenses. Our online comparison tool makes it easy to check out personal loans to help find the best option for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if my ex stops paying off our credit card debt after the divorce?
How is the debt split in a divorce?
Can you consolidate credit card debt from a divorce?
Photo credit: iStock/PeopleImages

About the Author

Susan Guillory

Susan Guillory

Su Guillory is a freelance business writer and expat coach. She’s written several business books and has been published on sites including Forbes, AllBusiness, and SoFi. She writes about business and personal credit, financial strategies, loans, and credit cards.
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