debt divorce joint accountThey’d been divorced for years when she discovered he’d been messing with her credit score.

She called in tears, sobbing about how her ex-husband was supposed to have removed her name from the joint credit card as part of the divorce decree. He hadn’t done so, fell behind on the payments to the creditor, and now her credit score looked like swiss cheese.

Help me, she implored. But there was only so muh I could do for her.

Here’s what she needed to know before the divorce was finalized.

The Divorce Agreement Doesn’t Count

If a credit card company gives you and your spouse a joint account, all three of you are parties to that contract. In order to change the terms of the contract, all three of you must agree.

A divorce agreement doesn’t involve the creditor, so any decision with respect to the account isn’t binding on the credit card company. You and your former spouse can agree to anything you want, but unless the creditor agrees as well it’s not going to amount to much.

Joint Account, Joint Liability

There’s no finger-pointing allowed in matters of joint credit cards. You’re both on the hook.

If the account is in both of your name, you and your former spouse are both liable regardless of who made the charges. Contractually, the lender can come after both of you if the account isn’t paid on a timely basis.

In comparison, authorized users on an account are not liable for repayment.

If you don’t know which you are, call the creditor and find out.

Getting Your Name Off A Joint Credit Card

If you want to get your name off a joint credit card, you’re going to need to pick up the phone and call the creditor. Each credit card company, car lender and, yes, mortgage company has a set of internal guidelines concerning this process.

You and the other card holder will likely have to fill out a few forms, so make sure you get that some as soon as you can. Make copies of the completed forms, send them back certified mail, and keep the return receipts as proof of mailing.

If you don’t hear back in 30-60 days, call the creditor again to see if there’s been a decision on your application. If your name is removed, get a copy of the decision letter from the credit card company and keep it handy.

It’s Simple But Not So Easy

If you look at the steps above you’ll see how simple it is. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to remove your name from a joint account.

Right now, the credit card company has two people they can hassle and, ultimately, sue if the bill isn’t paid. By removing your name, their odds of repayment decrease by half.

In order for the company to feel comfortable removing your name, the other person has got to be credit-worthy on their own. ¬†Even moreso that if that other person just applied for a new account, in fact. After all, this isn’t a card with a $0 balance so the risk to the credito is greater than would otherwise be the case.

If All Else Fails, Close The Account

An account holder can close a credit card account to prevent further charges. If you can’t get your name off the account, you should consider doing this as a way to minimize the damage to your credit in the event that your former spouse keeps using the joint account.

This won’t stop the interest or other fees, but it will stop things from getting worse.

Image courtesy of  401(K) 2013