Trying to prevent an ex-spouse from running up credit card debt on a joint account is one more stressor added to any already difficult situation. Getting divorced or breaking up with someone you used to (or still do) love is usually a terrible ordeal.
While there are some amicable divorces and breakups, this is rare and most breakups end in fighting and even deliberate attempts to hurt each other. This can be done through verbal threats, holding on to things the other person loves, or really hitting them where it hurts, in their finances.
One of the mistakes that many people make when they first get married or are in a long-term relationship is to get joint accounts. This may seem like a great idea at the time. However, there are numerous reasons that you should not get a joint account, and a break up is only one of them.
Reasons to Avoid Getting a Joint Credit Card Account
This may already be a moot point for many of you; however, if you are just starting a marriage or entering a serious relationship, you should avoid getting a joint account. Yes, one of the reasons being that you may end up not staying together and it can end up hurting you, but there are a couple of other reasons as well.
Firstly, you should create your own credit history independent of your spouse or partner. Establishing your own credit without a co-signer or a joint person on the account can positively affect your credit score. You also will have an easier time monitoring spending if you are the only person with a card on the account.
Secondly, if you maintain your own credit card accounts, then you will not have to worry about your partner or spouse missing payments. Taking responsibility of your own account will ensure that it remains up to date. Finally, if you or your spouse has trouble making a payment on a credit card bill, only one of you will be affected. Hopefully, the situation that caused you to be late or miss a payment is temporary, but if not then both of your credit scores will not be affected by this downturn.
How to Stop Your Ex from Running Up the Card
Unfortunately, as a partial owner on the card, you cannot legally stop your ex from running up debt on the card. They have that right by law. However, there are steps that you can take to protect yourself.
The first thing that you should try to do is to cancel the credit card or close the account. However, if you are not the primary account holder a credit card company will not allow you to do this. If you are the secondary account holder, send a certified letter to the credit card company explaining that you and your spouse or partner are no longer together and that you would like to be removed from the account. If possible, pay off the account so that they have a reason to allow you to be removed from the account. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that the credit card company does not have to work with you at all and many will not.
You can also talk to your ex. If you were married, you should refuse to sign the divorce papers until you spouse agrees to cancel the account or have your name removed (if they are the primary account holder). You could also agree to spilt the monies charged on the card, each of you open a single account and transfer the agreed upon amount to each of the individual accounts.
If your ex refuses to work with you, then you need to open your own line of credit with a credit card company so that you can begin establishing your own credit. The problem, of course, is that if your ex continues to make charges on the joint account, you are still financially responsible. As such, you have a decision to make. If you do not make the payments on the card, it will affect your credit as well as your ex’s credit. Credit card companies will also try to collect what you owe from both of you and they will not care that you are no longer living together or married. All they care about is that you signed a binding contract, together.
If you choose not to pay on the accounts while they are open, your credit score will be affected. However, once the credit card company has closed the accounts, you can focus on paying them off and working on improving your credit by continuing to maintain the new line of credit that you opened. While it will take some time, as long as you make payments on those accounts your credit score will improve again.
Your Legal Recourse
By law, because you were both on the accounts and signed the agreements, if your ex does not make any payments on the credit cards, you can sue them for the amount they owe. You can show which card made purchases on the account and your ex’s lack of effort to make payments on the accounts. While it will take some time, you will probably win your case against your ex (so long as you made the payments on the account or accounts).
The downside here is that it may be a hallow victory. While your ex-spouse be ordered to pay, there is no law that will compel them to pay and it is very difficult to get a court to agree to garnish wages or take money from a checking account (although you can try). The truth is, the only sure-fire way to keep someone from running up your credit card is to not have a joint account in the first place and hopefully your past experiences will help you make a different choice if you should get married or in a serious relationship again.
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