Dealing with credit cards is bound to be an issue in just about any divorce. Spouses who are ending their marriage should make sure they have their own cards going forward, but there is still the matter of dealing with existing credit card debt incurred by the couple. Just as marital property needs to be divided between the spouses, debt accumulated by the spouses also has to be split up, though how exactly this will happen will vary.
As explained by U.S. News and World Report, California is a community property state. This means that debt accumulated by you and your spouse following the date of your marriage and preceding your date of separation is considered community property. This makes both spouses equally responsible for the debt. Conversely, debt you have acquired before you got married and after your divorce or separation is considered solely your property.
This does not mean that a judge will automatically decree that each spouse has to pay exactly 50% of the debt. How a judge will divide the responsibility for the debt will depend on the particulars of the case. Sometimes a couple has already come to terms about how to handle credit card debt in a prenuptial agreement, or they may negotiate it during the divorce process. A judge will take these agreements into consideration and may choose to go along with them.
If there is no existing agreement to pay off marital credit card debt, a judge will look at other factors to reach a decision, such as how long the couple has been separated. It is important to be aware that a judge may not divide a debt in accordance with the terms of the card contract. A court may still require a spouse who is not contractually responsible for the debt to pay off some of it if the debt was used for marital property.
However a court decides to divide the debt, it will not change the terms of an existing card contract. A spouse who has debts in his or her name is contractually bound to pay off those debts or risk being sued by the card company and other creditors. Since credit card debt can be divided due to varying circumstances, this article should be read only for informative benefit and not as legal advice.