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Protect Your Credit in a Divorce

10 ways to safeguard money when relationships end

6. Avoid spending binges and revenge shopping

Unfortunately, some people going through divorce try to get back at a soon-to-be ex-spouse or a former mate by going on big shopping binges. If you're tempted to do this, calm down and rethink this strategy because it's almost always a bad move.

"One of the first things I tell both parties is to maintain your normal, current spending habits and not to let debt spin out of control," says Frisher, who is also a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst.

If someone spends recklessly while going through a divorce, even though it oftentimes would be considered a marital debt, a judge may look at the spending and order the spouse who wasted the money to assume that debt, Frisher adds.

Big credit card bills and other debts could prove difficult to pay off down the road and put your credit in jeopardy in the months and years ahead.

7. Use credit cards wisely before, during and after divorce

You still have to manage your regular credit card bills to the best of your ability when you are going through a divorce. Make sure you pay everything on time. If you can't pay in full, at least make the minimum payments. Although you may have big legal bills or other additional expenses related to your separation and divorce, try not to max out your credit cards.

Thirty percent of your FICO credit score is based on the amount of credit card debt you carry. The lower your credit card debt, the higher your credit score will be.

8. Check your credit reports regularly

"After the divorce is finalized, monitor your credit report to see if any errors or problems pop up from the joint credit you had during your marriage," Hardekopf says. You can get a free copy of your credit report — from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com.

If you're worried about identity fraud or the possibility of your ex opening new joint accounts after the divorce, you might want to sign up for a credit monitoring service. It could happen, considering your ex likely knows your Social Security number and personal data. While most credit monitoring services cost between $10 and $20 a month, a few free options do exist. For example, in December 2012, Credit Sesame began providing consumers with free credit monitoring on its Experian credit reports.

9. Put a "freeze" on your credit files

If a spouse has already shown a vengeful streak or has intentionally abused your credit accounts, you might want to put a credit freeze or a fraud alert on your accounts. Such actions will "freeze" your credit files and prevent an ex from using your Social Security number or opening new accounts in your name.

10. Use a civil court action against an ex as a last resort

Lastly, if a spouse didn't pay certain debts he or she was ordered to pay in a divorce proceeding, you may want to go ahead and pay those debts in order to maintain your credit rating.

It's not fair, but it may be the only way to preserve your good credit. Fortunately, all is not lost economically if you take this approach.

Frisher says that you can go back to civil court and try to get a judgment against your ex for not following the court order.

Hopefully, it won't get to that. After a divorce, many people just want to move on and heal — personally and financially.

Divorce is more than ending a marriage. It also requires splitting up your financial obligations. You'll be better off in the long run if you can deal with credit and debt issues with a good financial plan and a cool head.

Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, The Money Coach(R), is a personal finance expert, television and radio personality, and regular contributor to AARP. You can follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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