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Are You Responsible for the Debt of a Divorced Spouse?

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One of the questions that we get with some frequency comes from a divorced spouse, wondering whether they can be held legally responsible for the credit card debts of their ex-wife or ex-husband.  The short answer is that it generally depends on whether both spouses were owners of the credit card account, or merely authorized users.

The first issue is whether both persons were owners of the credit card.  For example, some credit card accounts are joint accounts listed in the name of both spouses.  In such a case, both spouses can be held legally responsible (including being sued) for the account if it goes into default.  The fact that the spouses divorce has no effect on both spouses’ agreement with the credit card company.   For example, let’s say the couple has a credit card debt of several thousand dollars, all of which was incurred on a joint account while they were still married. The fact that the couple later divorces has no effect on the credit card company: they can sue the ex-husband, or they can sue the ex-wife, or they can sue both of them, all for the full amount of the debt.  This is very similar to the co-signer of a loan: they can be held responsible for the full amount of the loan if the original signer does not pay it.  The co-signer can be sued for the full amount, regardless of whether they also sue the original signer.

Many people do not realize that any agreement that the couple reached during a divorce proceeding is generally not binding on the credit card company.  So, if the two of you had agreed that the ex-husband would be responsible for a specific credit card, if the payments are not made on time, the credit card company can still sue the ex-wife for the full balance!  If this happens to you, though, you may have certain options: not only can you defend yourself from the credit card lawsuit, but you may also sue your ex as part of the same lawsuit, as a third-party defendant, seeking to have them reimburse you for any of your losses.

However, it is important to note that the situation is very different if the spouse was only an “authorized user” on the account, and not actually an owner of the account.  An authorized user is exactly what it says: a person who is authorized to use the credit card.  That can be a spouse, a son, a daughter, or someone else.  An authorized user is not bound by the contract between the credit card company and the account owner, because they never agreed to the terms of the account.  So, with rare exceptions, merely being an authorized user does not make one spouse liable for the debts of the other spouse.  Of course, the account owner is liable not only for the charges they themselves make, but also for the charges of all authorized users on the account.

If you find yourself being sued on a debt that you believe belongs to a spouse, ex-spouse, or someone else, you may well have defenses to the credit card lawsuit.  Call us today at 386-444-3032 for a free consultation about your rights in a debt collection lawsuit.  Or, just click here to send us an email through this website.  If you wait too long to respond, you may lose important legal rights.