Editorial Policy

Expert Q&A: Ex Refuses to Pay Joint Card Debt

Erica Sandberg

September 26, 2011

QDear Erica,
My ex-husband is refusing to pay his portion of the credit card debt we still have from when we were married because he says it’s my fault we have so much debt. But I was using those cards to pay for our kids’ food and clothing and to make our home a nice place to live. I almost never spent on myself and always spent on him. We’ve been divorced for three years and still owe close to $20,000 on cards that are in both our names. Before, he was paying his part of the payments. But since he remarried, his wife’s been telling him he doesn’t have to pay and that it’s my responsibility and now he believes her. What can I do? Without his help, the payments would swallow me whole.  — Arlinda

ADear Arlinda,
I want you to go back in time and choose to not marry that man. Hmm, bad idea, as I’m sure you love the children you have with him and don’t regret them. Also impractical, since functioning time machines have yet to be invented and sold on QVC.

On to the reality of your situation. I imagine that there was a divorce decree after you and your husband legally split apart. Such a decree is the court’s final ruling on the settlement of property and financial matters.

In other words, any assets and liabilities that were incurred during the course of the marriage were divvied up. In the case of any debts that were owed, he was likely ordered to pay certain credit cards and you the others. Ask Erica

Simple, right? Sadly, no. A little problem with the decree is that while you and your ex are supposed to follow it, the creditors themselves are not bound to it. This means that if the judge ordered him to pay a balance but he bails on it because a certain someone is whispering in his ear that he doesn’t have to, that creditor can come to you for the payment.

I know it doesn’t sound fair, but consider it from the credit card company’s perspective: they granted the line of credit to the two of you, based on your conjoined financial circumstances and credit information. You being divorced or married is irrelevant. They just want to get repaid.

Does this mean that you have no recourse? No. The new wife can say whatever she wants, but her hubby is still liable for the debt — even if you got into it buying diamonds and taking trips to Capri and not spending on family expenses. If he violates the order, you can take him to court to press the matter — and let the judge come down on him.

Before you do call your attorney though (and waste more precious cash), make your ex fully aware that it is in his best interest to just pay the darn bill. Sure, it’s a lot of money that he and his wife might want to spend elsewhere, but if the debt goes delinquent, then the credit reports of all parties on the account will suffer. And if he waits too long, the creditor may decide that enough is enough and might sue the both of you for nonpayment.

I doubt very much that anyone wants the matter to go in this direction. Getting sued for a debt is no joke. The balance will balloon, since court costs, legal fees and interest will be added to the debt, the judgment will show up on credit reports and the judgment creditor may be able to garnish wages and put liens and levies on property.

Once your former spouse and his wife understand what can happen if he doesn’t fulfill his end of the bargain, I have a feeling he’ll resume payments. And you can get on with your life.