You were shocked when you were told that your credit application had been denied. You always pay off your balances, and you haven’t had any problems with credit card debt since your divorce was finalized. The credit card company then confirmed your worst fears—the debt you thought ended with your marriage is still following you.

Many women don’t realize that credit cards are considered community property in a Washington divorce, meaning that both spouses are responsible for paying off the debt—no matter which partner made the charges. In most cases, charges incurred on a joint account by either spouse during the marriage are considered community debts. However, charges made before or after marriage, on a card where you are not named on the account, or used by your spouse to buy something that did not benefit both parties, may not be considered community debt.

What Are My Options for Avoiding Credit Card Problems?

Most Washington mediators and divorce attorneys recommend that you reduce your joint debt as much as possible before the divorce is final, or if this is not possible, to separate any shared debt between the two of you. This is commonly done by:

  • Paying off the joint cards together (usually from a shared bank account).
  • Dividing up the debt on shared cards and transferring it to each spouse’s individual card.
  • Keeping a consistent and detailed record of all charges incurred on joint cards after the divorce is final.
  • Have a mediator create a signed agreement that clearly outlines who will pay the debt on each card.

Canceling Your Cards Won’t Cancel Your Liability for Your Partner's Debts

As part of your divorce preparation, you should go through your wallet to cancel any joint credit cards you share with your spouse. However, this will only go so far toward protecting you from future credit issues.

Although you may have made an agreement in court as to who will pay for what, credit card companies are not bound by the terms of divorce proceedings. If your spouse does not make payments on a card, the company may legally seek payment from you if you are named on the account (or if you cosigned the credit contract). Even more worrying, if your ex-spouse files for bankruptcy, he or she will be relieved of all credit card debt—leaving the credit card companies to come after you for past payments, interest, and late fees.

Worried that shared property and debt will affect you for years to come? Download our FREE book, The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Divorce in Washington, to learn how you can begin protecting your assets.

Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington