Do I Have to Pay Off my ex’s Credit Card Debt After The Divorce? (Pt 1)

Two computer screens across from each other. One has a hand coming out of it holding a credit card, and the other has a hand reaching out of it holding a shopping bag.
Nothing is more annoying than having to pay off credit card debt accrued by a shopaholic ex. But you may have to…

Credit card debt can be a killer. And for many of us here in Oakland County families, who are already paying off mortgages, cars, and student loans, credit cards can be a real financial burden. So it comes as no surprise that divorcing couples want to make sure that they aren’t stuck paying off any debt they didn’t personally accrue. Especially when it’s credit card debt, and when it’s their soon-to-be-ex’s credit card! (After all, who wants to get stuck paying off a whole load of debt built up by someone who just spent the last decade nickel-and-diming you to death?!) But before we get you all up in arms over who spent what money, let’s get a few facts straight…

Does credit card debt count as ‘marital debt’ in Oakland County?

That depends. There are a lot of factors that go into determining whether or not a debt counts as marital debt, such as who spent the money, when (and even why) it was spent, and what it was used to purchase. There is no one-size-fits-all answer here. Like the rest of Michigan family law, there is mostly gray and not so much black and white. For a debt to count as marital, usually it means each party is equally responsible for it (although the court usually assigns that debt to one person who is responsible for equalizing the net part of that property.) If a debt is separate, it isn’t calculated into the marital estate, and the person who ran up the bill in their name is responsible for paying it off. But again, remember – there are a lot of gray areas when it comes to dividing debts during a divorce. It’s all part of the property settlement negotiation process. 

So what exactly is marital debt in Michigan?

In order for a debt to count as a marital debt under Michigan law, the general rule of thumb is that it should have been incurred during the marriage, and before the date of separation (assuming the spouses get separated before they get divorced.) That date of separation is not a firm rule. Other dates are sometimes used by the courts. So if the credit card debt was run up while you were married (even if your spouse was the “big spender”) – if the credit card is in both of your names, you’ll probably have a hard time proving it is not a marital expense! And even if you can prove that your spouse spent the money, that doesn’t mean what they purchased didn’t benefit you in any way. (If your spouse bought new living room furniture, and you sat on those couches every day, you can hardly claim they spent the money on something that wasn’t ‘marital property’.)

Do couples have to share all marital debts when they get divorced?

No, they don’t, but it is standard practice, so to speak. Unlike marital property in Michigan, the law doesn’t assume that debt is marital just because it was incurred during the marriage. The court does recognize that some debts incurred during a marriage are the responsibility of one spouse, so when that couple gets divorced, the spouse who incurred the debt has to be responsible for it! (This tends to be easier to do when the debt is clearly something that only benefits one spouse, like student loans incurred while one spouse went to school, or when one spouse bought a car that only they drove.) But again, there are very few hard and fast rules for dividing up a marital estate here in Michigan. There are rules, exceptions to the rules, and then there’s equity and fairness. They are all figured into dividing up the assets and debts of the marriage. 

Asset division should be handled by a skilled family lawyer

Join us next time for a look at how the credit card companies handle marital debt during a divorce, and what you can expect the court to say about your credit card debt when you get divorced. Until then, we understand that fighting about who gets what is very stressful. And when your spouse is spiteful, or unwilling to work with you on fairly dividing all your assets and debts, it can be a terrible process! That’s why it’s so important that you hire a skilled family law attorney with lots of experience handling every aspect of divorce in Oakland County. So if that sounds like your situation, whether you live in Livingston County, Macomb County, Oakland County, Novi, Farmington Hills, Troy or Royal Oak, call (248) 479-6200 today and talk to someone who can help! We’ve helped hundreds of clients over the last quarter-century. We understand the struggles and emotional turmoil that divorce brings. We can help you get through this in a kind, non-judgmental and compassionate manner.