Divorce doesn't dissolve credit card contracts
Credit Score Report
Dear Credit Score Report,
have been divorced for seven years. We had a Capital One credit card in my
ex-husband's name, with me as an additional name. The divorce decree made it
his sole responsibility, but he won't remove my name. I sent three requests to
Cap One with copy of the divorce decree requesting to take my name off that credit
card. They won't do it. What now? -- Kris
Your marriage may have ended, but your existing credit card contract lives on, which means the bank probably won't take your name
off that shared account. Still, you may be able to get that card closed.
Although you don't specify it in your email, if you were a
joint account holder on your ex-husband's credit card, the bank isn't going to
take your name off the account. That's because your existing contract with the
bank overrides both the divorce decree and any requests made by either you or
your ex. From the bank's viewpoint, that credit card was approved based on your
combined incomes, assets and creditworthiness as a couple. Divorce won't free
you from the joint account. "While a divorce decree establishes the rights
and obligations of the former spouses to each other, it does not release either
spouse from the contract with Capital One or any other third party," says
bank spokeswoman Pam Girardo.
That's the worst-case scenario. If you're an authorized user
on that card, rather than a joint account holder, you should be able to get
your name removed from the account without too much effort. You'll just need to
contact Cap One again. As an authorized user, you also aren't responsible for any
debts on that card. (The exception occurs when you live in one of the nine
states with community property laws, which make both spouses equally responsible
It may sound like the bank is being tough on joint account
holders, but credit counselors say that Cap One's approach isn't unusual.
"I have seen far too many cases of people assuming they are no longer
liable for debt to later be called or sued by their creditors because the
spouse stopped paying," says Michael McAuliffe, president of nonprofit
credit counseling agency Family Credit Management.
So what should you do? Give the bank a call and explain your
situation. McAuliffe recommends speaking with a Cap One representative as well
as a supervisor, if necessary. Although the bank may not take your name off the
account, "at least make sure they have the account closed to new
purchases, which they should have done upon receiving her divorce decree,"
That's a request the bank says it will honor. Cap One can
"restrict the account from further use when notified and designate the
account to close upon reaching a zero balance, but both names will remain on
the account," Girardo says.
In other words, your name will remain on that card
regardless of the divorce. "I hate to say it, but getting out of a credit
card contract can take longer than ending a marriage," McAuliffe says.
See related: Dividing credit card debt in divorce, Credit card authorized users, joint account holders differ, How to cancel a credit card
Jeremy M. Simon is a former CreditCards.com reporter who wrote about credit scoring, economic data, credit card crime and other issues. He is based in Austin, Texas. He is a graduate of Vassar College and has previously worked for Thomson Financial in New York City, where he wrote about the stock markets, and Texas Monthly, as well as several publications in Austin.
Published: October 11, 2011