Identity Theft and Divorce: 4 Ways to Protect Yourself

No one says "I Do" while thinking the marriage won't last but, unfortunately, statistics show that divorce is the result for at least three couples out of every 1,000 who marry. Although Fox News reports that the U.S. divorce rate steadily decreased from 4.0 per 1,000 in 2000 to 3.6 in 2011, the numbers demonstrate that not every marriage is permanent.

Getting a divorce is a difficult time in general. It's hard to reconcile yourself to the thought that the person you once trusted most is now someone you need to be cautious of. As Jennifer Wallis, the Vice President of Central Oklahoma's Consumer Credit Counseling Service, told Fox Business, people act unpredictably during emotional times. In this electronic age, it's vital that you look out for yourself and do what you can to protect your personal information during a divorce.

Protect Your Identity

Should you really be concerned that your ex will steal your identity? As performer Rob Doyle revealed to a panel on Huff Post Live, his identity was stolen by an ex before the relationship broke up. So, yes, in some instances, especially once your spouse is on his or her way to becoming your ex-spouse, your identity is vulnerable. When there is real worry, you might Invest some time in identity theft education. You also might consider researching identity protection online to learn about the various ways people can abuse your identity to obtain credit, such as submitting loan and credit card applications you received in the mail. In some circumstances, you also might wish to find an instate identity protection services that will monitor your credit and alert you to any suspicious activity at least temporarily.

Run a Credit Report

Whether you've been married for two years or 20, you may not remember or even be aware of every account that was opened with your spouse. Fox Business reminds readers to think of department store credit cards that may have been applied for or unused home equity loans. Order a credit report to get the big picture of all the accounts connected with you and/or your soon to be ex-spouse. Pay attention to which ones are individual and which ones are authorized user or joint accounts. You usually don't have to worry about the ones in your ex's "individual" name and that are assigned to your spouse in the divorce. If those accounts are assigned to your spouse in the divorce decree, those aren't your responsibility. The ones you'll need to typically deal with immediately are the joint and authorized user accounts.

The Next Steps

Remove your ex as an authorized user on any account that is awarded to you in the divorce decree after the judgment is entered. Even with a divorce decree in place, you're still potentially on the hook for any debt that your ex-spouse racks up on your accounts if he or she is listed as an authorized user.

Only if the court allows you to do so, when you file for divorce, you may also consider closing and pay off joint accounts, according to DivorceMagazine.com. Any existing debt at the time of the divorce will be divvied up, but you won't have to worry about your ex not paying his or her part of the liabilities if there aren't any with your name on them. If paying off balances isn't an option, you might consider transferring them to credit cards or convert them to loans that aren't in both names if the court allows you to do so. However, again, it is important to note that you want to make sure you get court approval first before moving or transferring balances because in many states, including Missouri, court authorization is required by law before any such transfer is made while a divorce is pending.

If any joint accounts still remain when the divorce settlement is hammered out, put in writing how the payments are to be handled, and provide for worst-case scenarios. For example, stipulate that if your ex is unable to make a payment on a joint debt, you must be notified a reasonable amount of time in advance so that, in the interest of preserving your credit, you can make arrangements to make the payment.

Additionally, an indemnification, or "hold harmless" clause, is almost always advisable. These ensure that if you prevail in litigation against your ex-spouse over the non-payment of a debt they were ordered to pay, you have the ability to sue them for your damages.  Of course, the best avenue is for parties to separate their assets and debts as thoroughly and quickly as possible -- after the divorce decree is entered -- to avoid litigation and damage to credit in the first place.