Those thin plastic cards seem so convenient, but those who use credit cards too often may see their debt burden grow at an alarming rate. The issue of credit card debt can become one of the most contentious issues when divorcing. Credit card debt must be either paid off, divided, claimed or assigned, so read on to learn more about how divorce court handles this sticky issue.

Different States Use Different Rules

Marital debt and other issues are handled differently depending on whether or not you live in an equitable distribution state or a community property state.

Equitable Distribution States

The vast majority of states use this model, and generally the "owner" of the debt is responsible for it after divorce. If one party has a card in their name only, that debt belongs solely to the person on the account. That rules stands even if the other spouse had his or her own card with his or her own name on that account. The account holder takes responsibility for the debt. If you are a divorcing spouse in an equitable distribution state and your spouse has a card for your account, you may need to take action to prevent any further charges being made. 

If your account has both of your names as joint account holders, it can get a little more tricky to divide the debt. This can become an extremely contentious issue, and often judges will simply divide the debt down the middle, with each party responsible for half the debt. If one party can show that they never or seldom used the card, the arrangement may be different.

Community Property States

This is a less common model, used by only 10 states. The community property model considers most debt (and property) to be owned by both parties jointly. No matter who is the account owner, the total debt for the marriage is split down the middle. If you live in a community property state and were unaware of your spouse's debts, you may be in for a rude surprise when you divorce them. Debts incurred prior to marriage are exempt, and any debt incurred after the couple separate is each individual's responsibility.

It stands to reason that if you can pay off any credit card debt prior to divorcing, it will be one less potential problematic issue to deal with. Regardless, make sure that you keep good records of your use, especially joint credit card use that occurs after you separate. Talk to a divorce attorney, like one from Kleveland Law, for more information about how your state treats credit card debt during divorce.