Expert Q&A Archive
How do I handle credit problems after my divorce?
My divorce was recently finalized in 11/08. This was a 25 year marriage, yet I am still trying to tie up loose ends for accounts my ex-spouse has not complied to in the divorce settlement ordered by the judge. The first issue is to take my name off the house which reflects poorly on my credit report because of his late payments; second, to pay my educational loan, and third, all other financial accounts which include smaller account balances.
My question is what kind of lawyer will I need if I am in one state & he in another? I would like to rebuild my life, and continue my education but am not sure if I can even open another school loan. I am totally overwhelmed.
Delores Lenzy - Jones, CPA, CIA:
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Suggest a Family Law attorney.
Connie K. Marmet:
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You may not need an attorney on the small accounts. If you send a copy of the divorce decree that has been stamped by the court, and that agreement clearly gives your ex the liability for the accounts, you may be able to get your name off the account. You need to get your name off of the accounts to avoid incurring more liability. Closing the accounts is the best course, but this requires paying off the balance. If your ex is not complying with the terms of the marital settlement agreement, you can ask the court to help you enforce it.
Getting your name off of the mortgage will be more difficult as the bank must agree, and there will be closing costs. The first step would be to discuss the terms of the marital settlement agreement with your lender and see what they will require. Again, an attorney may not be required.
If you need an attorney, I would start with the attorney that you worked with on the divorce. The concerns you outline should have been covered in the marital settlement agreement, and the attorney should be able to help with enforcement.
Many states have reciprocal licensing agreements for attorneys, and some attorneys are licensed in multiple states. If the original attorney can't help, ask for a referral. If you do not have a good working relationship with the original attorney, you might check with the court where you filed your divorce papers or with a local women’s organization and see if they have a referral list.
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If I understand you correctly, your ex was assigned certain debts in your divorce decree and has not been paying them on time. If these were joint accounts, then you are well aware of the fact that his having been late reflects upon your creditworthiness.
Unfortunately, it's not as simple as just taking your name off the loans. The lenders had a written agreement with both of you, and most are not willing to simply remove one person's name due to a divorce (they would rather have two people to go after than one). It never hurts to ask, but my experience is that you are not likely to be successful with most of them.
It's not clear whether you are living in the home for which your ex is supposed to be paying the mortgage, but the best solution is for him to either refinance the home in his name only, or for the house to be sold. (That may or may not be an option depending on the market, how much is owed, etc.) If that's not an option, then I would recommend you talk with your divorce attorney to find out what your options are for enforcing the divorce decree.
The same thing is true with the other loans. Unless your ex can pay them off or refinance them in his own name, you will have to rely on him making the payments as required under your divorce decree. I would recommend you start with your divorce attorney. If he or she can't help you, ask for a referral to another attorney who can.