Q. My husband and I have credit cards together but our mortgage is paid off. I want to separate myself from his accounts for personal reasons. How can I do that so I’m never responsible for his debts?
A. Establishing ownership and division of assets within a marriage is a challenging task.
To separate yourself from your husband’s assets and debts, you should close all jointly owned accounts and forms of payments, said Cynthia Aiken, a certified financial planner with RegentAtlantic in Morristown.
This includes jointly owned checking/savings accounts, bank accounts, investment accounts and credit cards.
You didn’t say you’re planning on a divorce, but we should discuss what would happen.
Aiken said there is a distinction on how certain states treat assets and debt in the case of a divorce.
New Jersey is an equitable division state.
“This means that the marital assets – i.e. the house – are divided in such a manner determined to be fair, but not necessarily equal, by the courts,” Aiken said. “Furthermore, joint and individual credit card and loan balances are considered marital debt in a divorce. As long as you are married, you could be held responsible for his debts.”
Aiken recommends you check your credit rating regularly and consider locking down your credit with the rating agencies to prevent any attempt to use your credit to open a credit card or obtain a loan.
If being held responsible for your husband’s debts is your main concern, Aiken recommends you seek legal counsel to guide you through the process of clearing your name.
“Honest and open communication with your husband is encouraged because the more you both agree and settle these financial issues outside of the legal system, the easier and less expensive this separation of assets will be,” she said.
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