Divorce can be devastating both emotionally and financially, but knowing what to do to protect yourself may make the difference between losing your mind and all you have worked hard for.

That three digit number known as your credit score has a huge impact on your life; it is often used as a qualifier for loans or lines of credit, is a determining factor in the interest rate you receive, and can even prohibit you from certain jobs. So, protecting your credit while going through a divorce is important. Here are some things you need to know to protect yourself.

Being married to your spouse does not mean being married to their credit. Each of you has your own score. It is important to know and understand the accounts you have together (joint accounts, according to the FTC) and those that you are solely responsible for. Unfortunately, separating from your spouse does not separate you from joint debt; if it's in your name you are responsible and getting divorced won't change that.

For example: As part of your divorce agreement, you include that your spouse is solely responsible for paying off a credit card bill. If they don't pay, what happens? Creditors can begin trying to collect from you, calling you and dinging your credit for late payments. Worse, they might not go away when you provide them a copy of the separation agreement or divorce decree.

You have three options with joint debt, when you divorce:

1. Require that the debt be paid off with marital assets as part of your separation agreement and divorce decree. Then make sure you take care of paying them off out of joint funds or require proof of payment.

2. Have your spouse refinance that debt into his or her own name by a certain date; document the requirement in your separation agreement and divorce decree, so that if it isn't done you can take appropriate legal action.

3. Agree to pay the debt yourself so that you are in control of when payments are made and can ensure that they adhere to the creditor's terms. Your spouse may require that you refinance the debt into your own name.

Pay close attention to the debts below to make sure that whoever was given the debt in the divorce agreement is the one responsible for it, and that your liability for the debt has been protected with the recommendations above.

  • Mortgage debt
  • Car loans
  • Utility bills in both your names
  • Insurance premiums
  • Credit cards
  • Cell phone bills
  • Medical debts
  • Back taxes

As difficult as it can be to come to terms with divorce, it is important that you protect your long-term financial health. While you and your spouse are deciding how to divide up joint assets, give equal consideration to what will happen to your joint liabilities.

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Suzanne Cramer

Suzanne is a certified credit counselor working in our Ask the Expert forums as a coach and a Social Media Specialist for CareOne. Suzanne writes for our Blended Finances and A Straight Talk on Debt blogs.  As a soon to be divorced single mom, Suzanne also writes for the Divorce, Debt, and Finances blog. Ask her questions, share your story or just follow Suzanne on her journey as she navigates dealing with divorce, debt, and finances. Suzanne is also very active on Twitter and manages two CareOne accounts: ADivorcedMom and Ask CareOne where she shares the latest debt industry news and tips to keep your finances in check.

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