How divorce can ruin your credit score

There's no getting around the fact that divorce hits people hard in all areas of their lives. It doesn't matter whether the divorce was initiated by you, or not. If there are children from the marriage, if you're both angry and upset, and if one or both of you need to find new places to live, divorce comes with so much stress that it sometimes feels like it's going to ruin your life forever.

One area that divorce negatively affects is your credit--if you aren't careful about how you handle things. Be prepared for these three related problems that could drive down your credit score.

Overusing credit cards or other lines of credit

You may find yourself facing more expenses than ever before. From down payments for new living arrangements, hiring an attorney, extra childcare costs or lost work time due to court and lawyer appointments, many people run out of cash on hand and throw the extra expenses on a credit card (or two or three). That can affect your credit rating, especially if you can't make the payments on time.

Not paying credit card and other bills when they're due

Whether it's debt you recently incurred or an ongoing monthly payment for housing, car loans or anything else: if you fall behind because you and your spouse can't agree on or are confused about who should pay which bill, or because you're overextended, your creditors don't care. They just want to get their money on time. If they don't, that will end up on your credit report.

Not keeping track of joint accounts

Remember, until the divorce is final and you have separate accounts, you're both financially responsible for every joint account. This can be disastrous if the divorce is not amicable. If your soon-to-be ex is spending extra money, withdrawing bank sums to hoard, or opening up new credit cards in both of your names and charging them to the limit, you'll be held responsible. When you can't pay those bills, your credit will be damaged.

What can you do to avoid credit score freefall?

Separate all of your joint accounts as soon as you can. If you had individual accounts prior to the marriage that you authorized your spouse to use, de-authorize them. Create a written plan for handling joint debt. And try to find sources of income you can use to help pay for the divorce: are there singular or joint assets of value you could sell? If so, you won't need to take on the added financial burden.

Think carefully about where you want to end up financially after the divorce is over, and consult a divorce attorney to talk about your plans.