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When a Spouse Stops Paying the Bills

Divorce is usually not just an emotional challenge, but a financial one as well. When two people decide to split up, it means severing the economic ties that hold the marriage together. Indeed, this separation of assets and income is what consumes the lion’s share of the time spent on many divorces. In most marriages, there is one person who handles the bills, or at least takes the lead in handling the finances. In other marriages, couples might choose to keep finances separate. Still, even if keeping finances separate, there are no doubt large expenses that must be shared, such as a mortgage. So what happens when, during a divorce, one spouse simply stops making payments on certain bills that will affect the other spouse?

Joint Credit Cards

Credit cards are one of the first things to be neglected in a divorce. They are unsecured, meaning they are not tied to a physical object or asset that can be seized for nonpayment. Likewise, they generally take a long time to be charged off. So, when couples are struggling to come up with money for court costs, lawyers, and child support, or added expenses from separating, making minimum credit card payments is not a big priority for some. When you and your spouse are both account holders, your spouse’s failure to make payments will affect your credit too.

If you notice that the account is falling behind, you should immediately contact the creditor and explain the situation. Ask if the company will permit a forbearance, whereby no payments or interest will be charged for a brief period of time, preferably long enough to decide whether you or your spouse will be keeping the account after the marriage. CreditCards.com advises that in many cases, it may be wise to close the account and start fresh. In most cases, the balance will be treated as a liability, just like other marital debts, and divided according to the court’s final judgment.

Jointly Owned Vehicles

If you and your spouse have a lien on a vehicle, it becomes a little more troubling. After all, car loans are secured debts, meaning they can be repossessed. If your spouse previously paid for your car payments but is no longer doing so, you might be facing not only a drop in your credit score for making late payments, but you could also wake up to an empty driveway. Again, you should first contact the finance company to discuss your options. If you have a good payment history with the lender, sometimes they will allow you to postpone several months’ payments and simply add them to the end of the loan term. Bankrate.com has a host of suggestions you might want to try before giving up. If not, ask your lawyer for other options.

Sometimes the higher earning spouse may be in a better position to take the financed vehicle and make the payments. If this is the case, you may be able to negotiate for a reasonable amount of money in exchange so that you can replace your transportation.

Utilities

Utilities are a tricky issue. If you and your spouse still live together, then you both have something to lose by not keeping up with the bills. However, in many divorces, one spouse vacates the family home and finds another place to live. If that spouse fails to continue paying the utilities on the house, it can spell big problems for the spouse still living in the house. Like all other creditors, the first step is talking to the utility company. Second, you should bring the issue to your lawyer’s attention. If you are the primary custodial parent for young children living in the home and your spouse has neglected to make utility payments, you will want to work closely with your lawyer to get an agreement in place that sets forth each party’s responsibilities in this regard.

Every situation is unique, so you should consult a local Orlando divorce lawyer at the office of Goodblatt · Leo who can offer suggestions and assess your individual situation. We can assist you throughout each step of your divorce.

GOODBLATT · LEO is located and serves clients in and around Orlando, FL.

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