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Sometimes married couples opt to have joint credit card accounts. While this works out just fine in countless instances, there are an equal number of situations where things do not quite go as planned. Should things turn sour and the files for divorce, what becomes of the shared debt?

If you were to find yourself in an especially nasty situation where your spouse,for whatever reason, maxed out a joint credit card account you share, and unbeknownst to you, there are a few things you must know:

The community property states

If you happen to reside in one of the nine “community property states” in the United States, such as Texas, Nevada, Arizona, Louisiana, Idaho, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Washington or California,any credit card debt your spouse amassed throughout the duration of your union,would very likely end up under joint responsibility, regardless whether the debt was charged on a joint credit card account, or not. This holds true, until you legally separate, after which the debt officiallybecomesresponsibility of anex-spouse identified by court documents as the originator of purchase. Be wary, however, that a court decree awarding you an escape ticket from debt, does not automatically remove your responsibility in the eyes of the bank. You must follow through with notifying the bank of court’s decision.

But if you do not live in one of those states, the afore-mentioned scenario – wherein your spouse transfers debt onto your joint credit card account – has much graver consequences for you, and you need to take some steps to protect yourself from further financial ambush.

Shut It Down

While you cannot simply remove your name from a joint account, or excuse yourself from responsibility to pay a debt, regardless of how the debt wound up on your card, you can, as a joint accountholder, close down the account entirely, to prevent further charges. While this does not fix the problem of existing debt balance, it will prevent your spouse from being able to rack up any more new charges on the card.

Focus On Your Own Finances

You can never control the actions of another person but you can control what you do and how you react. Now is the time to sit down and put your own financial house in order. Plan a budget, and in that budget include monthly payments of your portion of the joint credit card debt. Make regular, on-time payments each month, and be sure to keep all of your records. That way, if you ever have to, you can prove in court that you have been upholding your end of your joint financial responsibilities. Getting your finances under control will go a long way towards making a tumultuous and unsettling time a little bit easier to bear.

Plan How to Repay

Establish a repayment plan in order to pay down the amount that is owed. Ideally, you should meet with your spouse to calmly discuss finances and repayment of the joint credit card debt. If things are at a point where an amicable conversation of this sort is not feasible, you may have to consult with your attorney about how best to proceed. It may require the help of a mediator to reach a decision.