Divorcing? Protect Your Finances, Personal Data
By Jason Alderman
No doubt you've seen many warnings against sharing personal or financial information with strangers, but what about your spouse – or ex-spouse? A recent study by McAfee uncovered some unsettling results:
- Although 96 percent of adults surveyed trust their significant other with passwords, intimate photos and other personal content, only 32 percent have asked their ex to delete the information when ending the relationship.
- One in five people said they're likely to log into their spouse's Facebook account at least once a month.
- Some 30 percent admitted they'd "cyber-stalked" their significant other's ex on social media.
Given the high rate of divorce and how frequently marriages end acrimoniously, it's not a big leap to think that a scorned lover could severely damage your credit and reputation. If you're getting divorced, here are some important legal, financial and privacy considerations:
If you and your spouse are in complete agreement on how you wish to divide assets and settle debts, you may be able get by with a do-it-yourself divorce kit. It's still wise to have a divorce attorney review the forms to make sure you haven't overlooked anything.
If your separation is more complicated but relatively amicable, you may also want to try collaborative divorce, mediation or arbitration:
- Collaborative divorce. Both parties retain a lawyer and the four of you hash out an agreement outside the courtroom. You each control the final agreement instead of having to abide by a judge's decision.
- Mediation. You each have lawyers but hire a third-party mediator to work through differences on critical issues. Mediators don't have the legal authority to impose final decisions.
- Arbitration. Like mediation, except that the arbiter hands down a binding agreement by which you each must abide.
If you can't settle out of court, be prepared to possibly pay many thousands of dollars in attorney and court fees. Ask around for referrals to lawyers who specialize in divorce.
You may also want to consult a financial planning professional for advice on how to fairly divide property, calculate child support and ensure you're sufficiently insured, as well as explain Social Security and retirement plan implications.
To protect your credit status, close joint bank and credit card accounts and open new ones in your own name; otherwise, an economically struggling or vindictive ex-spouse could amass debt in your name and ruin your credit. If your ex retains the house or car, make sure your name is taken off the loan so you're not responsible if they flake on payments.
Be sure all closed accounts are paid off, even if you must transfer balances to your new account and pay them off yourself. That's because late or unmade payments by either party on a joint account – open or closed – will damage both of your credit scores.
Check your credit reports before, during and after the divorce to make sure you're aware of all outstanding debts and to ensure that all joint accounts were properly closed. The three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, don't always list the same accounts, so to be safe, order credit reports from each.
Change all passwords, PINs, and other information your ex could use to access your electronic devices and financial, email and social media accounts. Also, don't email or post malicious or revealing information that could be damaging if presented in court.
Bottom line: Divorce can be a painful experience to live through. Don't make it worse by not protecting your own financial interests.
Jason Alderman directs Visa's financial education programs. To Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney.