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If you are going through a divorce, your credit score may very well be the last thing on your mind. Unfortunately, your personal credit is particularly vulnerable during a divorce because of the potential for an angry or careless spouse to run amok with your shared lines of credit.

An important first step toward protecting your credit during and after a divorce is to take inventory of all the debts and lines of credit that you and your spouse are responsible for – both jointly and separately. A good way to do this is to obtain a credit report, which will itemize your lines of credit as individual, joint or authorized user accounts.

In Arizona, debts acquired by either spouse during a marriage are considered jointly owned, even if the debts are the products of individual accounts that appear in the name of only one spouse. This means that either spouse could be held responsible for debts that the other spouse accrued while the marriage remains intact. Even so, there are steps you can take to limit your spouse’s ability to rack up additional marital debt.

First, remove your spouse from any personal accounts on which he or she is an authorized user. An authorized user is someone who is permitted to charge to an account but is not responsible for making payments on it. Needless to say, this type of account can be a dangerous tool in the hands of a vindictive or careless spouse.

You should also make sure that you are removed as an authorized user from any of your spouse’s lines of credit, because these will appear on your credit report and influence your credit score even though you are not practically responsible for making the payments.

Next, try to separate any jointly held accounts that you and your spouse share. This can be tricky because your divorce will not directly alter the contract that you and your spouse have with the lender. If possible, it is best to pay off joint debts and close those accounts before beginning the divorce process.

If you are unable to close or separate your joint accounts, be sure to pay close attention to those accounts until they are paid off and closed out. Even if your spouse has agreed to take responsibility for the payments for a joint account, request a copy of the statement each month to make sure that it is being paid.

If you have questions regarding how your credit may be affected during or after a divorce, please contact an experienced family law attorney.

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