Can She Run Up My Credit Cards?

Question:

My wife signed my name on a credit card where I am the only authorized signer and ran up the bill. Is that legal?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Answer:

The answer to your question depends upon your definition of “legal.”

As to whether the charges are a legally enforceable debt to the credit card company or if the vendors improperly allowed her to make the charges, you would need to review your credit card agreement.  The agreement may provide that an ”authorized user” is anyone you allow to use your card, whether or not that person is on file with the credit card company as an authorized user.  You have the legal right to empower others to act on your behalf.  The category of “authorized user” on a credit card usually refers to a person who is issued a card in their own name on the account, not all persons you may authorize to use your card or sign your name.

The determination as to whether you allowed someone to use your card can become highly subjective.   Except as modified by a court order in a divorce or legal separation proceeding, spouses have a mutual obligation of support and a general duty to act in the best interests of each other.  Usually, a spouse’s use of your credit card is presumed to be with your permission.

If you wish to avoid payment of her charges as unauthorized, the credit card company may require you submit evidence that your wife used the card without your knowledge and against your direction, or even require that you file criminal charges against your wife, in order to rebut the presumption that her use was authorized.

If the charges were for her personal benefit beyond usual living expenses, or for the benefit of someone other than you and your children, and the marriage is “irretrievably broken” as defined by your state, you may be able to have the debts assigned to her in any divorce or legal separation proceeding that is commenced within a reasonable time after she incurred the debt.  In this situation, it may be determined that it was not “legal” for her to run up a debt on your credit with the expectation that you would have to pay the bill knowing that the marriage was in trouble.  Once the marriage is headed towards divorce or legal separation, there is not necessarily a presumption that each spouse will act in the best interest of the other and the spouses can be held accountable for the debts they incur regardless of whose account is used.  However, you would need to pursue a divorce or legal separation and raise the debt as her non-marital debt or a dissipation of the marital estate promptly in those proceedings.

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