Q: My wife and I have been married for 10 years and have accumulated an embarrassing amount of credit card debt. Between the two of us, we earn around $90,000. Our credit card debt is over $50,000. Most of this is in my name, although my wife is the one who has done most of my spending. Can the judgment of divorce require her to pay some of this?

A: The most important thing to remember about credit card debt in the context of divorce is that, no matter what the judgment of divorce says, the person who is contractually liable to pay the credit card is the one the credit card company will come after if the debt does not get paid. The credit card companies do not care what the judgment of divorce says in most cases.

If you are contemplating having your spouse pay some of the credit cards that are in your name, talk to your attorney about ways to guarantee that this will be paid by her, and not come back to haunt you if she does not do what the judgment of divorce requires of her. If at all possible, the portion of the debt that she is assuming should be refinanced in her name alone so you are no longer contractually liable. If that is not possible due to limited income or a less than perfect credit score, the judgment of divorce can simply require her to assume and pay the debt, and if it is not paid, the court can order spousal support in an amount sufficient to compensate you for the missed payments. Also, keep in mind that if both parties to a divorce are required to jointly pay a debt, if one of them files bankruptcy, the other one can be left holding the bag. Be sure to discuss with your attorney what would happen in the event one of you files for bankruptcy. In some cases, the judgment of divorce can contain "anti-bankruptcy" language, providing that debts being assumed will become non-dischargeable in bankruptcy. Finally, if your debt is truly overwhelming, the two of you might want to consider consulting with a bankruptcy lawyer prior to filing for divorce to possibly discharge some or all of the debt.

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