Many people are confused about what the judge can and cannot do about credit card
debt in a divorce. Of course, every case is different and you should consult with your
attorney about your situation. Here are the basic rules:
Credit Card in Both Names
If the credit card is in joint names (the statement comes with both of your names on it,
all the judge can only order one person to [pay it and if the non-responsible person pays
it, they are typically given the right to recover what they paid on the debt and their
attorney fees and costs for recovering those fees and costs incurred to recover the
monies that were paid from the person who was supposed to pay the money. The legal
term for this is that the party who was ordered to pay has the obligation to “indemnify
and hold harmless” the other person.
The judge in your divorce has no power to require the credit card company to collect
from one or the other of you to pay the card and let the other one totally off.
The credit card company will not close the account until the balance is zero. Talk to
your attorney about using marital funds to pay off a joint credit card account.
If you believe that your name was fraudulently put on the account, that is a matter for a
different day and a different court and most likely, a different attorney (one who focuses
on debtor’s rights.
Card in One Name, Authorized User
If the credit card is in the name of one spouse and the other spouse is only an
authorized user, absent some unique circumstances, the authorized user may not be
held responsible for that credit card bill by the issuing bank. However, the judge may
order the authorized user to be responsible for some or all of that card balance and may
impose the same obligations to indemnify and hold harmless discussed above.
Card in One Name, No Authorized User
The same guidelines apply as when there is an authorized user. The growth of e-
commerce has made the designation of the authorized user largely irrelevant, and
tracing who bought something online is next to impossible. It will be virtually impossible
for the holder of the card to show that the spouse (1) purchased something and (2)
there was no express or implied consent to use the card.