A divorce is obviously an emotionally charged time for you and your family. You’re juggling a lot of arrangements and financial details. Most divorce attorneys suggest thinking about how to divide your financial responsibilities as early as possible ‒ particularly if you have shared debt.
Look at shared debt. With the help of a mediator and/or your financial advisor, you may be able to decide which of you will take which debts. You may consider paying off or closing any credit accounts before you divorce. Most states allow you to settle debt issues between you. If you can’t come to an agreement and the court has to decide for you, the divorce can get very complex and expensive.
Another reason to be proactive about your shared debt: It can help you both maintain good credit ratings after your split and, perhaps most important, prevent uncomfortable conversations about unresolved debts with your ex-spouse in the future.
Get help as soon as you consider a separation. Meet with your financial advisor at the first hint of impending separation. A good financial advisor will be compassionate and willing to remain neutral if he or she serves both you and your soon-to-be-ex. Your advisor can revisit your investment portfolio and do a cash-flow analysis to illustrate what you might draw as future income. He or she can also offer advice about which shared debts might be best for you to take on (or avoid), given the amount of risk with which you are comfortable.
Start with your credit report. A smart way to begin reviewing your debts is to request a copy of your credit report so you can verify which liabilities are in your name. If your spouse is willing to share his or her credit report, that can help you get a full breakdown of all shared debts. Your obligations might include assets such as a primary home, vacation home, vehicles, credit cards and lines of credit, family business–related debt, and possibly student loan debt.
Once you have a full picture of your debts and assets, you can discuss dividing them.
What about the house? Research confirms most divorcing women want to keep the matrimonial home whenever possible, especially when children are still living there. The spouse who keeps each home should also take responsibility for its loan, refinancing it in their name if at all possible.
Information is important to handling debt well during a divorce. One situation where you might have to continue working together with your ex-spouse on a shared debt is if you have an unresolved tax obligation. You should talk to the IRS about setting up separate payments on that joint debt.
You may not agree on how to split contentious debts, such as secret credit card debt created by your spouse. In that case, your state’s laws will come into play. For instance, in most states, ownership of debts is decided by “equitable distribution.” A judge or mediator assigns debts to spouses according to factors such as who signed for it, got greatest value from it, or has the larger income.
Overall, information is the most important key to handling debt well during a divorce. Collect tax returns, credit reports, and bank and brokerage statements as early as possible. The more you know about your marital finances, the easier it should be for you to negotiate over outstanding debts at the settlement table.
This article was written by/for Wells Fargo Advisors and provided courtesy of Todd Harrett, Financial Advisor with Axiom Financial Strategies Group of Wells Fargo Advisors in New Albany, IN at 812-948-8475.
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