Most divorcing couples hope to wash their hands clean of any ties to the other party after the decree is finalized. Once assets and debts are split and child custody is arranged, generally people want to start over with a clean slate. Unfortunately, most couples don’t realize that both parties, despite an arrangement, are still responsible for certain obligations after the divorce is final.
After Divorce Your Credit is Still Often Tied Together
Whether parties have signed an agreement or a judge has issued a judgment, legally, creditors can still pursue either party post-divorce for debts the couple still owes. Unfortunately, because a judge carries no authority to modify the terms of the contract executed between the couple and the creditor, a divorce degree can’t extinguish the original contract the parties entered into with the creditor.
This becomes a problem when one spouse is assigned the responsibility to pay the joint credit card bill, for example, and fails to make timely payments. If a spouse is late paying a bill, it will show up on both parties’ credit score. “Late payments on an account can drag down your credit score, even if your divorce decree says you’re no longer responsible for the debt,” says Gerri Detweiler, a credit educator and author of The Ultimate Credit Handbook. Unless a party’s name is fully removed from the obligation or account, the credit bureaus will continue to report the payment history on that account.
More importantly, should one ex-spouse stop paying altogether, the creditor can even go after the other spouse for the balance. Unfortunately, “the lender doesn’t really care” about the divorce arrangements, says John Ulzheimer, president of Credit.com Educational Services, a consumer-education web site. Or, as John Ulzheimer, president of Credit.com puts it, “They’ll go after both parties, with equal vigor, just as if they weren’t divorced.”
Foreclosures Appear on Both Spouses’ Credit Reports Unless Mortgages Are Properly Refinanced
Sandra Scott told the SmartMoney that because her husband failed to make timely payments on their mortgage after the divorce, her credit is ruined. In 2005, when her and her husband divorced, Sandra agreed to let her husband keep the house as long as he refinanced the mortgage in his name within 90 days. Unfortunately, her husband failed to refinance as well as make timely payments on the original mortgage. The lender foreclosed the house and reported the default on both of their credit reports.
In some cases, in an effort to try and sabotage the other spouse, an outraged wife or husband will rack up a large balance on a joint credit card in order to shackle the other spouse with the obligation to pay the debt. Unknowingly, the party is destroying his or her own history simultaneously.
In most cases, however, parties assigned to pay certain debts usually fail to pay because of simple ignorance or unforeseen circumstances such as a job loss.
Whatever the instance, it’s important to understand that until joint marital debt is officially paid or one party removes his or her name from the account, both parties in a marriage are responsible. If a couple is not proactive or fails to plan accordingly, their finances may be affected for years to come as a result of the other parties’ actions following a divorce.
If you are undergoing a divorce or have questions about marital debt or safeguarding your credit in the wake of a divorce, contact an experienced family law attorney in your area.