Dear Credit Card Adviser,
What is the legal status of both the account holder and the authorized user when an ex-spouse, because of an oversight, remains an authorized user on a credit card account after a divorce? If they made charges to the card as an authorized user after the divorce, can they be sued to reclaim them? Notably, the divorce decree includes language that each is responsible for their own credit card debt.
— Just Curious
Dear Just Curious,
Issuers generally don’t hold authorized users liable for credit card debts. (I say “generally” because there may be times when a debt collector, rightly or wrongly, comes calling anyway.) However, that’s not to say the authorized user in this scenario would be off the hook for their purchases.
Liability in divorce cases typically is governed by the terms of your divorce order. Most well-written ones contain language requiring each party to “commit not to incur future debts for which the other will be responsible,” says Ani Mason, a matrimonial attorney and founder of Mason Law & Mediation LLC in New York City.
That means, yes, the account holder could sue and — in all likelihood — recoup what the authorized user charged. Again, depending on the language in the divorce order, the authorized user also could be held liable for any interest the purchases incurred in the interim or even attorney fees related to the new litigation.
Of course, even those who suspect their divorce settlement won’t hold them liable shouldn’t go looking for or exploiting any potential loopholes.
Running up new purchases on an ex’s account is “definitely a bad idea,” says Gabriel Cheong, a divorce attorney with Infinity Law Group in Boston, because it won’t exactly engender goodwill from an ex moving forward.
“You’re already divorced,” Cheong says. “You don’t want to create a (messier) situation.”
If you have rung up charges on an ex’s account since formally ending your marriage, simply “pay it back,” Mason says. This move will ensure you don’t run into further legal or emotional woes down the road.
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