As a divorce attorney, I suppose this is probably the third most common question I get from clients or prospective clients (right behind “how much will this divorce cost” and “how long will this divorce take”), which simply stated is, “do I have to take the credit card debt of my spouse if I didn’t run up the bill.” The answer to that question generally results in the spouse who did not run up the bills feeling “duped” and the divorce process being “unfair.”
Under Florida Statute 61.075, marital debts and liabilities will be equitably between spouses during a divorce. This means that generally any debt or liability acquired during the marriage will be divided between the divorcing spouses, regardless of whose name is on the debt or liability. This means credit cards too. It’s important to remember, however, that the Statute requires the division of debts/liabilities be
equitable, not necessarily equal. For the court to determine what is an equitable distribution of marital debt, it can consider many statutory factors, including: each person’s contribution to the marriage, any contributions one party has made to other person’s education or career, whether either party has intentionally depleted or destroyed marital assets and other equitable factors. As an aside, this process generally does not include “pre-marital debt.” So if one spouse can show that the debt (or a portion of the debt) existed before the marriage, then it may not be treated as a marital debt for the purposes of equitable distribution.
However, I must point out that credit card companies to not have to and generally won’t agree to abide by a Divorce Decree or Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage. So while you and your spouse have agreed to divide up the debt a particular way or the Court has ordered it divided a particular way, the credit card company is not obligated to follow that agreement or Order. Instead, the credit company will hold whomever is listed on the account responsible for the debt. This may be problematic if say the Husband has agreed to take a credit card debit listed in the Wife’s name. He may fail to pay it and the credit card company will still demand payment from the Wife, regardless of the court order.
But what about credit card debt when one spouse didn’t know a thing about? This is the most heartbreaking answer: if it was acquired during the marriage, regardless if you knew about it or not, or it was it your name or not, it is still a marital debt that it going to be divided. I had a client whose Wife had charged up about $30,000 of debt he knew nothing about. He generally handed her his paycheck and let her handle the martial bills and finances. When she filed for divorce, it was only then did he find out about the debt. She had not engaged in any “martial waste,” as in spending money on a paramour or anything. So, even though the didn’t know about the debt, he was still required to take on half of it. Not knowing about the debt does not relieve the other spouse from being responsible for it. This is a caveat emptor – KNOW, LEARN, BE INVOLVED in what is happening with your finances! Don’t let someone else just manage the household finances unchecked.