Divorce doesn't dissolve credit card contracts

Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Credit Score Report,
I 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  

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Hey 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 for debts.)

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," he says.  

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.   

Good luck!


See related: Dividing credit card debt in divorce, Credit card authorized users, joint account holders differ, How to cancel a credit card

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Updated: 12-18-2018