Coates & Frey, Attorneys at Law, LLLC
Phone: (808) 524-4854

Joint credit cards and divorce: What you need to know

Do you have a joint credit card with your spouse? You're far from alone if you do -- but it's important to address that issue early if you're planning to get divorced, so you don't end up with any unwelcome surprises.

Legally, joint credit cards belong equally to both parties -- as does the debt. While a family court judge may order your ex-spouse to pay off a particular credit card, that order doesn't affect the credit card company. If your ex-spouse fails to pay, your credit will suffer just as much as his or hers. In addition, the credit card company can try to force you to pay up -- and leave you to try to collect the money back through whatever means the court gives you.

Take a few smart steps where your joint cards are involved as soon as you know a divorce is coming:

  1. Shut down the cards. Contact the credit card companies and have them inactivate the cards. Neither you nor your spouse should use the joint cards from the point you've agreed to divorce forward.
  2. Try to negotiate with your spouse about the debt. Hawaii isn't a community property state, so neither assets nor debts have to be divided 50-50. If you and your spouse can agree on a plan to split the debts without involving a judge, however, you'll definitely save yourselves time and money.
  3. Pay off the cards before the divorce is final, as part of the split. While this might be difficult, you may be able to work out a deal with your spouse to pay the debt off through a personal loan, a home equity loan or a loan against a retirement fund.
  4. If that's not possible, have your spouse transfer the debt from a joint card onto a card in his or her name. If your spouse's credit is sufficient, this is another good solution.

If there's absolutely no way to clear the balance on those old joint cards before your divorce, make sure that you monitor your credit reports monthly until the debts are repaid. That way, you can take steps to minimize any problems or mitigate the damage to your credit if your ex-spouse fails to pay.

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