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In debt do you part: What happens to debts in a divorce?

If you forgot that you and your soon-to-be former spouse would need to divide your debts right along with your property, you aren't alone. Most California couples involved in a divorce tend to focus on splitting up their assets. While that is a necessary part of the process, your debts require attention and division as well.

Dividing debts in a divorce comes with its own set of challenges. Just as you would need to take every aspect of an asset into consideration before deciding to fight for it, you need to do the same with your marital debts.

Creditors don't care what your divorce settlement says

Don't make the mistake of believing that you give away any responsibility for a joint debt when your spouse agrees to take it on after the divorce. If your former spouse fails to pay the debt as agreed, the creditor may still come after you for payment. Even if you inform a creditor of your divorce and provide proof that your former spouse agreed to pay the debt, it more than likely won't matter. You also pledged to pay the debt, and that is all your creditors care about in the end.

So, how do you protect yourself and your credit after a divorce?

First, you should endeavor to remove your name from any joint debt that your former spouse agreed to pay. This removes you from any liability for it. Of course, this may be easier said than done. Your income and ability to pay was part of the reason you received the joint debt in the first place. A creditor may not want to remove your name without confirming that your ex-spouse can afford it alone.

If you must remain on a joint debt, you may want to monitor it to make sure that your former spouse makes the payments. If he or she fails to do so, you could try discussing the matter with your ex-spouse. If that doesn't work, you may need to return to court and ask the judge to order that the payments be made or that you receive compensation in some other way if you must pay the debt in order to preserve your credit rating.

Another option for you and your not yet ex-spouse involves working together to pay off at least some debts prior to filing for divorce. If your situation is amicable, this might prove a successful way to ensure that neither of you risks your credit after the divorce. Only rarely does divorce not affect each person's finances, so the more debt that gets handled prior to filing, the better off you both may be.

Legal assistance

It might behoove you to seek the counsel of a knowledgeable California family law attorney prior to filing for divorce. He or she can help you determine the best course of action regarding your joint debt. In addition, having a legal advocate from the start can help protect your rights throughout the divorce on all issues and can help you reach a settlement that lets each of you walk away feeling satisfied.

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