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Are you responsible for your ex partner’s debts?

Are you responsible for your ex partner’s debts when you’re no longer living together? When couples are going through divorce their focus is naturally on the things that immediately affect their everyday lives, such as where they are going to live and how often they will see their children. However, recent research shows that two-thirds of people find it hard to separate themselves financially from their ex spouse because of debt.

In our experience, agreements over who is responsible for paying off joint credit card bills or personal loans can be as hard to negotiate as deciding who keeps the family pet. If debt isn’t tackled early on in divorce negotiations couples can find themselves tied financially for many years after they split.

Credit cards

If you have a credit card in your name that has been used to pay for household expenses, family holidays and other joint purchases, a case can be made to have this considered as joint debt, even if it is in your sole name. Outstanding balances on credit cards used for family expenditure and joint credit cards will ideally be cleared as part of the settlement, leaving both parties free of any financial ties to one another.

Sometimes couples decide to retain a joint account or credit card to use for children’s expenses. We would advise extreme caution, particularly in situations where you are an account holder and your ex spouse is an authorised user (in other words, has a second card on your account). Authorised users are not liable for the account, even if their spending has resulted in the debt. That could leave you liable for a large bill with no legal rights to challenge it or recover the money.


Loans can cover a wide range of financial agreements from formal contracts with loan companies, informal borrowings from family members and direct debit payments for everything from holidays to sofas.

If loans form part of your ex partner’s debts, in basic terms a loan company has an agreement with the individual who signed the paperwork. This is irrespective of the purpose of the loan or whether the loan applicant was married at the time. Things become more complicated when informal lending has taken place, for example from the bank of mum and dad. The complexities surrounding lending and liability mean that it is vital couples seek advice from a specialist family solicitor as soon as possible over these kinds of issues. Every set of circumstances is different and contracts vary widely.

Dealing with your ex partner’s debts

At Harrogate Family Law our solicitors are experienced in dealing with issues of debt and divorce. By tackling it early on in the process we can prevent it from holding things up further down the line. We can also make sure both sides can successfully separate themselves financially from one another without having the worry of ongoing joint liabilities and responsibilities.

Andrew Meehan is individually recommended for family law by both Chambers 2017 and the Legal 500 2016. He is also a Resolution accredited specialist solicitor for divorce cases involving complex financial and property matters.

This article has been prepared with the aim of providing general information only and does not constitute legal advice in relation to any particular situation. While we aim to ensure that the information is correct at the date on which it is added to the website, the legal position can change frequently, and content will not always be updated following any relevant changes. In addition, everyone’s circumstances are different and this article is provided by way of general information only and must not be relied upon. If you require legal advice on a family law issue, please feel free to contact us by emailing Harrogate Family Law accepts no liability whatsoever in contract, tort or otherwise for any loss or damage caused by or arising directly or indirectly in connection with any use or reliance on the contents of any part of our website, except to the extent that such liability cannot be excluded by law.

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