I am in the middle of a very bad divorce where my ex-husband has
left me with all the major bills. Unfortunately, I have fallen behind
on all of the bills and even had to make arrangements with the first
and second mortgage companies.
There are times that I've been forced to use my credit
cards to meet my living expenses. I know what I should do to pay
them down, but my biggest question is, how do I get out of this
cycle of being behind and start paying on time? -- Dianna Debt-ridden
If you're in the middle of a bad divorce, then you don't have an
ex-husband. If the divorce decree is final, then you do have an
ex-husband, but that doesn't mean he gets to be free of the joint
financial obligations you took on in marriage.
First, recognize that these are not all your debts.
Even a divorce decree doesn't affect your ex-husband's responsibility
for any joint debts incurred during your marriage. In a community
property state (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New
Mexico, Texas, Washington or Wisconsin), his financial obligations
may extend to the individual accounts opened in just your name during
the marriage, and the individual debts of one spouse may appear
on the credit report of the other in a community property state.
Whether or not he's able to recognize it, you both
have an incentive to resolve these financial obligations in a manner
that will keep the damage to both of your credit histories to a
minimum. You're both going to go on to build new lives, and trying
to do it with bad credit is an added burden that neither of you
need. Late and missed payments stay on your credit reports for seven
Along with getting current and staying current on
your bills, your immediate priorities concerning credit are to stop
him from applying for any new joint cards, keep him from continuing
to run up balances on your current joint cards and getting him to
accept some responsibility for your current debts.
A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guide on Credit
and Divorce will help you sort out the issues surrounding your
Convince him that it's in both of your interests to
make required payments on time, even if you just pay the minimum.
If you can't convince him and the divorce isn't final, you could
request that the divorce court issue a temporary support order.
You haven't given me the particulars of your financial
situation, but it sounds like you're at the end of your ability
to cope. It would be a good time to talk with a credit-counseling
agency. Read this FTC guide for more information on selecting
a credit-counseling agency.
Another possibility is to declare bankruptcy. (Credit
counselors don't tend to be advocates of bankruptcy as a solution
to consumer financial problems, so don't look to them for that advice.)
If the divorce isn't final, it may be advantageous
to consider bankruptcy prior to the completion of the divorce decree.
You'll only pay for one bankruptcy filing, you'll know when you
divorce which obligations will be discharged -- and that may make
your divorce less complicated.
Filing for bankruptcy after the divorce is more complex
because your filing puts financial pressure on your ex to repay
the entire debt. That's because creditors aren't a party to the
divorce decree and can continue to look to the ex-spouse for payment.
If you were assigned a debt by the divorce decree, however, the
ex-spouse could file an action in the bankruptcy court asking the
judge to continue to hold you liable for it.
A Chapter 7 bankruptcy stays on your credit
report for 10 years, while a Chapter 13 filing stays on your report
for seven years. But if he's not going to honor your joint obligations
and you can't handle them on your own, bankruptcy may be your best
solution, especially prior to divorcing. Get professional advice
from a bankruptcy attorney before deciding to file for bankruptcy.