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Am I responsible for my wife's credit card debt after a divorce?

After a divorce, it is common for Tennessee residents to believe that they are no longer responsible for their joint credit card accounts if the other spouse has agreed to pay them. But what they may not know is that credit card companies are not parties in a couple's divorce decree. This means that one person cannot be taken off a joint account after a divorce and both parties are responsible for the monthly bill.

If your spouse opened the account in their name alone, then they are the one who will be responsible for making the monthly payment. If the account does not show up on your credit report, then you are probably not obligated to pay it. It's when the credit card is in both spouses' names that issues crop up.

A divorce does not automatically free you from credit card debt, since the credit card company is not alerted when the marriage ends. Even if your spouse was the one who ran up thousands of dollars in charges on the joint credit card, you are still responsible for making sure the monthly payment is made. If your ex-spouse doesn't pay it, you'll need to pay it or else see your credit score suffer.

So what's a good way to keep your credit in good shape? Review your credit report upon divorce. Take note of all the accounts listed and pay close attention to those listed as joint accounts. If there is a balance on them, you may want to take the initiative and pay them - even if your spouse refuses to do so. Also, consider closing the accounts so your ex-spouse can't run up any new charges. You'll preserve your credit score and show lenders how responsible you are with money despite the challenges you faced. And as always, make sure to discuss the situation with your lawyer first to make sure you are not violating court orders or needlessly aggravating the situation.

Source: FindLaw, "Credit and Divorce," accessed Nov. 29, 2014

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