Am I Liable for My Spouse's Credit Card Debt?

Find out when you're liable for your spouse's credit card debt.

By , J.D., California Western School of Law

Under some circumstances, you can be held liable for your spouse's credit card debt. Whether you might be responsible for this debt depends on:

Your Liability in Common Law States

Most states—called common law states—use common law rules when determining who's liable for a particular debt in a marriage.

Credit Cards That Are In Your Name Only

In common law states, you're usually only liable for credit card debt if the obligation is in your name. So, if the credit card is only in your spouse's name, you're typically not liable for that debt. But 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.

Credit Cards That Are In Both Spouses' Names

If the debt is for a joint credit card in both your names, then you and your spouse are equally liable for it.

Credit Card Cosigners

Also, if you're a cosigner on your spouse's credit card, even if it's not a joint account, you're still on the hook.

Additional Rules for Community Property States

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, as in common law states, you're on the hook for any debts in your name or that you cosign for.

Community Debts: Both Spouses Are Equally Liable

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. So, even if the credit card debt was incurred by your spouse alone, you might be liable for it. However, keep in mind that debts incurred by your spouse prior to marriage or after separation or divorce are not community debts.

What Is a Community Debt?

Each state weighs different factors and might 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.

Your Liability for Credit Card Debt Assigned to You in a Divorce Proceeding

Even if you weren't 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 because a family court judge can't change the terms of the initial credit card contract. But if you fail to pay the debt and the credit card company comes after your ex-spouse, then your ex-spouse can sue you for violating the divorce decree and seek reimbursement for any damages suffered.

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