Under certain circumstances, you can be held liable for your spouse’s credit card debt. Whether you may be on the hook for your spouse’s credit card debt depends on:
(To learn more about credit card debt, see our Managing Credit Card Debt area.)
Most states (called common law states) use common law rules when determining who is liable for a particular debt in a marriage. In common law states, you are usually only liable for credit card debt if the obligation is in your name. This means that if the credit card is only in your spouse’s name, you are typically not liable for that debt. However, keep in mind that if you have jointly owned assets, then the credit card company can still go after your spouse’s interest in that property.
If the debt is for a joint credit card in both your names, then you and your spouse are equally liable for it. In addition, if you are a cosigner on your spouse’s credit card (even if it is not a joint account), you are still on the hook.
Certain states (called community property states) follow community property rules instead of the common law when determining which spouse is liable for a particular debt. In community property states, you are still on the hook for any debts in your name or that you cosign for.
But in addition, debts incurred by you or your spouse during your marriage (regardless of whose name is on it) are generally deemed to be community debts and both spouses are considered equally liable. This means that even if the credit card debt was incurred by your spouse alone, you may be on the hook for it. However, keep in mind that debts incurred by your spouse prior to marriage or after separation or divorce are not community debts.
Also, each state weighs different factors and may have additional rules regarding when an obligation is considered a community debt. Usually, if the debt was incurred for something that benefited your marriage, it will likely be deemed a community debt. But if it was a purchase that only benefited your spouse, there is a greater likelihood that it will not be considered a community debt.
Currently, the following states follow community property rules: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. In Alaska, married couples can agree to treat their property as community property.
Even if you were not otherwise liable for a credit card debt, a judge may still assign the obligation to you in a divorce proceeding. If a credit card debt is assigned to you in a divorce, that doesn’t mean you are contractually liable for it to the credit card company. This is because a family court judge can’t change the terms of the initial credit card contract. However, if you fail to pay the debt and the credit card company comes after your ex-spouse, then he or she can sue you for violating the divorce decree and seek reimbursement for any damages suffered.
To learn more about what happens to credit card debt when you get divorced, see Divorce and Credit Card Debt.