Q. I’m getting divorced and I want to make sure to separate my credit from my wife’s. How can I do that?
A. You’re wise to want to protect your credit, and your question is a biggie.
We turned to Kenneth White, a divorce attorney for Share and White in Edison, N.J., to tackle this one. He said without all the details of your situation, he can’t provide the most comprehensive advice, but he had plenty of items for you to consider.
Short of filing for divorce, there is no efficient way to isolate yourself from your wife, White said.
“Specifically, while you are married to your wife you are part of a partnership,” he said. “Think of it like a business enterprise within which you are each potentially entitled to 50% of the benefits as well as being 50% responsible for the liabilities.”
While you remain married, White said, there are no “my assets” and “her assets,” such as your 401(k), her bank account, etc. Regardless of whose name may be associated with the asset, there is a presumption that all assets amassed during the course of a marriage are “marital,” or another way to view it: “ours.”
Similarly, White said, all debts and liabilities amassed during the marriage are potentially divisible equally between the parties to a marriage regardless of who specifically amassed such debts or liabilities.
White offers this example to drive the point home:
“If you win the lottery the day before a complaint for divorce is filed, your wife will have a claim for 50% of the lottery proceeds,” he said. “Win the lottery the day after a complaint for divorce is filed and she has no claim to such proceeds.”
It works the same for any debt that’s amassed prior to a complaint for divorce is filed, he said, and any debt amassed by one party to a marriage in his or her independent name after a complaint for divorce is filed will likely belong to that individual party.
Accordingly, the only way to begin to isolate yourself from your spouse, potentially protecting new assets and to be protected from new debts, is to file.
White recommends you meet with an experienced family law attorney who can review the specifics of your situation.
Going through a divorce is also a crucial time to monitor your credit. You can get a free annual credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com.