Marriage is a risk that New York couples take with total self-investment. Spouses contribute emotions, energy, time and income to marriage. It’s no wonder that couples thinking about separation or divorce take a long time to make a decision.

Legal advisers say emotion-based money decisions are mistakes with unpleasant consequences that outlast divorce’s immediate pain. Professional counselors agree that financial preparation for divorce is imperative.

Spouses negotiating a settlement are expected to know which marital assets and debts are separate property and which are shared responsibilities. A fair agreement is elusive for spouses who have distanced themselves from the couple’s finances. Financial ignorance during divorce is an extreme disadvantage.

Legal advisers and debt managers suggest spouses take a proactive money stance as soon as divorce is a possibility. Start by pulling up a credit report. Credit scores — ratings that lenders use to determine consumers’ financial reliability — are accessible through credit bureaus.

Divorce has no effect on an individual’s credit score unless one spouse damages the rating by overextending credit or racking up bills on joint accounts. Divorcing spouses can limit the harm by paying off, altering, closing or opening new individual accounts. A credit “freeze” keeps an ex from adding debt.

Spouses often have credit card accounts with partners as authorized users. The user has access to credit with no liability for the bill. Plans for divorce should include removing both spouses from affected accounts.

Separating liability for some joint debt is not easy. Divorce agreements define how debt should be separated. A court-ordered settlement does not override lenders’ policies for loan responsibilities. An asset sale or ownership transfer — not a title transfer — may be required for valuable assets like vehicles or real estate to remove one ex-spouse’s liability.

Divorce is an upheaval on several levels. Competent legal and financial advisers make sure that when the emotional disruption subsides a financial storm does not follow.

Source:, “How to Protect Your Credit During a Divorce,” Abby Hayes, March 25, 2013