Written by Jonathan Breeden
Getting a divorce raises all types of questions for both parties involved, such as: Who gets the house? And Where will the children live? Perhaps one aspect that gets an enormous amount of attention is dividing marital assets and debts. The division of property is a lengthy process, but dividing bills can take just as much time. Couples need to go over every debt and discuss everything from who may want to shoulder the large obligations like a car loan down to who pays the credit card bills in a divorce.
When you get divorced in North Carolina, the state divides up both your marital property and marital debts according to the law of equitable distribution. This means the court assigns property and debts to you and your spouse in a way it determines to be fair for both of you. The court defines marital property as “all real and personal property acquired by either spouse or both spouses during the course of the marriage and before the date of the separation of the parties.” To further clarify, if you and your spouse purchased a home after you were married, but the home loan was in your name only, the court would still consider that home a marital asset and the home loan, a marital debt.
Financial commitments such as the mortgage or car loans may seem like obvious marital debts. But credit cards might be a little different. There are different types of credit card accounts; the type you have may affect who is on the hook for paying them off in divorce.
A joint account is one that you open with another person, and you and that person share equal responsibility for making payments. All charges and payments will have the same effect on each person’s credit. If you are going through a divorce and you have a joint account with your spouse, you may want to close it so that neither of you incurs more debt under that account. It’s important to remember that you are both be responsible for paying off any balance on the card, but if your spouse fails to hold up his or her end of the deal, you will be responsible for the entire amount.
Adding an authorized user to an account is a little different. If you have a credit card and choose to add your spouse, for example, as an authorized user, it means your spouse will receive his or her own card tied to your account, and he or she will be able to make purchases or take out cash advances just as you can. However, as the primary account holder, you are responsible for all purchases and cash advances on the card. In the event of a divorce, this card will be considered a marital debt, so the court will include it in its equitable distribution calculation of your marital debts. But you need to be aware that the credit card company may not have to follow your divorce decree, so if your spouse were to stop paying his or her half, the creditor can go after you for the entire amount due.
If you have a credit card in your name only, it will likely be considered a marital debt if you opened the account during your marriage and used it to make purchases that benefitted the marriage. Like the mortgage example above, even if the card is used solely by one spouse, it will be considered a marital debt.
Occasionally, a married person may open a single account credit card and not reveal the card’s existence to his or her spouse. In this instance, the court may still consider the secret card marital property, unless you can prove otherwise. For example, if you can show the court that the purchases made on the hidden credit card did not benefit the marriage, the court may agree and order that your spouse alone is responsible for this debt. Because this situation can be tricky, it’s best to contact a divorce attorney to help you figure out your liability.
Many couples can make the divorce process a little easier by deciding among themselves on how to divide property and debts, rather than relying on the court’s decision. Working these distributions out with your spouse can also help you both devise a repayment plan for your bills that will serve you better than equitable distribution would. In order to make the process go smoothly, you may want to contact an accomplished North Carolina divorce attorney to help you determine a fair plan and keep your emotions in check during this stressful time. Jonathan Breeden of Breeden Law Offices has spent over 20 years in the North Carolina family courts, so he can provide practical advice on all matters pertaining to your divorce. Call (919) 661-4970 today.