Managing debt is something that many couples struggle with, and balancing mortgages, car payments, loans and credit card payments each month can prove to be challenging. For those going through a divorce and making the transition from living on two incomes to one, it can be even harder to stay afloat.
To ensure debts and divorce are handled properly, you will need to be thorough in uncovering the details of your current financial situation with your spouse, as well as your past history. At the same time, it is also important to develop your own individual plan for recovery, while taking the steps necessary to ensure debt responsibility as you move forward as a single person.
All too frequently I hear from clients, "I don't know how many bank accounts he has", "I think she has been spending money that I don't know about," and "I don't have access to finances, what do I do?"
First and foremost, take a deep breath. While you may not have been in control of your family's finances, there are some basic things you can do to educate yourself about your liabilities.
Debts and Divorce
In Georgia divorce proceedings, marital property is subject to the rules of equitable distribution, which applies to both marital assets and liabilities you have acquired from the date you were married, up until the date of your separation. Both you and your spouse will be required to fill out a Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit, which will be filed with the court along with your divorce documents. Items to be included on this affidavit include:
Your total monthly income and expenses;
All property and assets you own, including homes, cars, personal belongings, and financial accounts;
Any debts and liabilities you owe, either jointly or individually.
The court will use this in ordering a settlement agreement that is fair and reasonable to both parties. If alimony is awarded, the court could assign responsibility for paying debt in lieu of alimony payments.
Where to Start
While it can seem overwhelming, there are a few easy places to start piecing the puzzle together:
1. Review joint tax returns.
It is key to review a complete copy of the tax return. You may always request a copy of your tax transcript from your local IRS office. Various tax schedules and forms provide significant information on types of income, interest/dividends earned, and various deductions.
2. Make a trip to the local bank branch
In the era of paperless everything, you may not have online access to joint accounts and bank statements. However, your banking institution has complete statements available for you for the last twelve months at little to no cost.
3. Pull out those mortgage or auto loan documents
Before any lender approves a loan, they will ask for detailed financial information. If a personal or business loan was obtained, the party would have been required to submit personal financial statements to the lender. A review of these statements can determine the assets, debts, income, and expenses disclosed when the loan was obtained.
Divorce and Debt Responsibility
CreditCard.com , part of Bank Rate's online network, advises that to avoid a negative credit rating or future problems with creditors, it is a good idea to close any existing joint accounts, while establishing your own individual credit. This should be done at the first sign of an impending separation or divorce. Other tips they recommend for dealing with divorce and debt responsibility include the following:
Obtain a copy of your credit report to check outstanding debts listed in both you and your spouse's name;
Contact all credit card companies and lenders on the list to get your current account balance;
Use joint funds to pay off as many outstanding balances as possible;
Sign up with a credit monitoring service to ensure no new accounts are opened.
Continue to pull your credit report every few months during your divorce to monitor any changes, and continue to monitor your credit for two years after your divorce has been granted.
Contact Our Georgia Divorce Attorneys Today
If you are going through a separation or contemplating a divorce and have concerns about debts and obligations you and your spouse owe, contact Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor right away. Our Georgia divorce attorneys can advise you on the steps you need to take in your situation, while providing the professional representation you need to ensure your rights and protected. We have offices located in Alpharetta, Buckhead, Dunwoody, Marietta and Johns Creek; call or contact us online to see how we can assist you.