Credit card debt presents sticky situations in divorces

Sara Stout Ashcraft
BridgeTower Media Newswires

Those of us who practice matrimonial law are always dealing with debt. The required Statement of Net Worth has a section devoted for every kind of debt there is, including “chattel mortgages.” However, today the biggest debt people have — other than (maybe) their mortgage — are usually on credit cards. When I am going over the necessity of doing the Statement of Net Worth with a new client, I commonly tell them to run a credit report on themselves. Usually, clients say that they know what credit cards they have and the debt on them. I then point out to them that their significant other usually has all the information needed to open a credit card in the client’s name without the client even realizing it.

The biggest concern about credit card debt in a divorce is that if the opposing party ends up with a credit card on which your client is named as a debtor, there may well be big problems later on. Joint credit cards have been the bane of divorce lawyers for many years, as the debtors are jointly and severally liable. If the ex-spouse keeps a credit card on which the other is a joint debtor, uses it, and then fails to pay, VISA may soon be at the other’s door. Without question, it would be best if any joint credit cards are paid off by the time the divorce becomes official. However, many times the parties simply do not have the funds to pay off a joint credit card, and that debt needs to be specifically noted and dealt with in the official separation/divorce paperwork.

Fortunately, today joint credit cards are rarely issued — although ones issued years ago may still be in service. Now, while a credit card may have multiple “authorized users,” there is typically only one legally responsible debtor.
However, even a non-debtor authorized user will usually have the debt show up on their credit reports. How can divorce lawyers untangle the sticky mess? Maybe they can’t, but there are things that they can help their client do to find out about these issues up front.

The once-mystical credit report is now readily available to your client. There are three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Most consumers now know that they are entitled to a free credit report from each of these bureaus once a year, but there is something new. Because of all the debt issues springing up from various sources during COVID, all three major reporting bureaus are offering free weekly credit reports though April 2022. The application to get the reports is available on This is the only official website that is set up by the “big three” reporting bureaus specifically to allow individuals to obtain their credit report. It also has easy to understand information about credit reports and credit in general.

Clients often say that they “know” their credit is “good.” Unfortunately, many are often fairly ignorant of specifics. The various television commercials telling viewers they can check their credit rating whenever they want or even raise their credit score are not providing a detailed credit report, usually just giving the “credit score.” It is important for divorce clients to understand that detailed credit reports are very helpful and that their soon-to-be ex could right that moment be getting a credit card and hanging the debt on the spouse.


Sara Stout Ashcraft is a partner in Ashcraft Franklin & Young, LLP.