Who Pays Credit Card Debt in Divorce?

When a divorcing couple works on their marital settlement agreement, one of the biggest sources of contention can be credit card debt. Who is responsible for paying the balance? What if one spouse incurred debt the other didn't know about? These are questions that often must be answered before a divorce decree can be finalized.

Who pays credit card debt in divorce?

Sometimes, the decision to use credit cards is a joint one: Married couples may use their credit cards to help pay for big items they need for their home. Other times, one spouse racks up debt without the other person’s knowledge. The person ultimately responsible for paying back credit card debt in divorce can vary.

  • If it’s a joint credit card: If the credit card is jointly owned, both spouses would likely be responsible for the debt. Unless one spouse admits the debt is solely theirs, the credit card company will likely attempt to collect the debt from one or both spouses.
  • If it’s just your card: If the credit card is in your name only, you're theoretically responsible for the debt. However, if you can prove your ex-spouse used the card, you may be able to get the credit card company to attempt to collect the debt from both of you.
  • If it’s your ex-spouse’s card: If the credit card is in your ex-spouse's name, they are theoretically responsible for paying the debt. If they refuse to pay or cannot pay, however, the company might still go after you for what is owed.

Does state law impact who pays credit card debt in divorce?

State law can affect who ends up paying the final tab. Do you live in a community property state or an equitable distribution state? The answer to this question can affect how assets and debts (including credit card debt) are divided between the two of you in your marital settlement agreement.

Community property state residents

 If you live in a community property state, you'd probably be on the hook for half the credit card debt – unless you could prove that your spouse opened a credit card and used it without your knowledge. Debt is generally divided 50/50 between each spouse in these states. This means that if one spouse incurs $10,000 in credit card debt, the other spouse would be responsible for $5,000 of that debt.

Equitable distribution state residents

If you live in an equitable distribution state and your former spouse has debt on a card in their name, you may be able to avoid paying that debt, as your marital debt would be divided equitably rather than 50/50. In equitable distribution states, the division of property, assets, and debts is done in a way that is fair but not always equal. This could mean that one spouse is responsible for a majority of the credit card debt while the other gets most of the assets. It’s a scenario that can leave one spouse feeling like they got a bad deal in the divorce, even if they were the one who incurred the credit card debt.

In community property states, debts are generally divided equally between spouses. In equitable distribution states, however, debt division occurs in an equitable manner. This can be confusing because “equitable division” does not mean a 50/50 split. It simply means that each spouse incurs an equitable share of the debt.

Credit card debt in the divorce settlement negotiation process

A few different scenarios could play out in the divorce settlement negotiation process. In some cases, the spouses agree on who will pay off the credit card account. In other cases, neither spouse accepts responsibility, so the credit card company must get involved and attempt to collect the debt from both spouses.

FAQ about credit card debt in divorce

Can our credit card debt be divided before we get our final divorce decree?

Yes. In divorce settlement negotiations, each spouse typically agrees to a specific division of property, assets, and debts. Credit card debt is included in that agreement. Typically, if one spouse is responsible for the credit card debt, they will also be responsible for any interest or penalties accrued on the debt.

Can we pay off our credit card debt by liquidating assets?

Yes. Divorcing couples sometimes decide to pay off credit card debt by liquidating marital assets. For example, if a couple has $10,000 in credit card debt and $30,000 in assets, they might agree to liquidate $10,000 worth of assets to pay off the shared debt. This type of agreement is often called a “clean break” because it allows both spouses to move on from the marriage with no outstanding obligations.

What if we can’t agree on a repayment plan?

If spouses can't agree on a repayment plan, the credit card company may get involved. The company may try to collect the debt from both spouses. Or, they may only go after one spouse. This is largely dependent on the state law and which theory of debt division that state follows. Unfortunately, collection attempts from the credit card company can be very stressful and add more conflict to an already difficult situation.

Recommended download: Property Division Spreadsheet

5 tips for preserving your credit as you go through a divorce

Credit card interest rates are notoriously high. As you move into this next chapter of your life, you don’t want joint credit card debt weighing you down. Although your financial situation might not be perfect, you can make the most of it by following these tips.

1. Get your credit report, and keep tabs on your credit score.

You can obtain your score through any of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. While this knowledge alone won’t provide debt relief, it can help you catch any errors and guide your future financial decisions.

2. Pay off as much debt as possible before the divorce agreement is finalized.

This may be achieved through a debt consolidation plan, monthly payments that exceed the minimum payment requirement, or other means. The goal is to eliminate shared debt as much as possible so you can get a clean break.

3. Don't make any big purchases or take on new debt during divorce.

The goal is to rid yourself of shared debt. If you need to improve your credit score, consider taking out a line of credit in your own name and making timely payments to boost your score.

4. Communicate with your ex about your financial situation.

If necessary, use a mediator to intercede between the two of you. Knowledge is power in this situation. mediator

5. Get help from a financial planner or credit counselor.

A session with a certified divorce financial advisor (CDFA) can be well worth the expense for the knowledge and tips you gain. At Hello Divorce, we offer flat-rate sessions with a CDFA to help divorcing couples at all stages of the divorce process plan their best financial course.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your divorce – including the shared debts you and your ex must now wade through – we see you. It can feel absolutely overwhelming, but we’re here to tell you that you can and will make it through this. If you’d like to talk to one of our experts, go here to schedule your free 15-minute call. We’re happy to help.


Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.