03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Divorce, American Style And Your Credit

As a single mom with a 15 year old I'm going to tell you a little story of how my life almost went down the toilet. Fortunately, however, I woke up before drowning! Yes, I was once a naive young lady who had just turned twenty-one and like a lot of people married my childhood sweetheart. In less than eighteen months right after my daughter was born the marriage fell apart. After getting through the divorce, I began to settle into my newfound freedom.

Just as I was beginning to get comfortable with my new life I applied for a new car loan and that is when I had my very rude awakening. I had bad credit, a low credit score and no buying power. I had never even heard of these things at my young age; it was a real wake-up call into adulthood. I was left feeling totally hopeless. Thinking about my daughter I decided I needed to find a way to stand up on my own two feet. Within a couple of years I was able to find my way and clean up the financial mess from my previous life. So here's how I did it, what I learned and now I'm passing it on to you.

All your ex's stuff is out of the house, the divorce is finalized, and you are basking in your new independence. However your divorce decree has your ex responsible for the Visa card and part of the mortgage you once held together. Your ex may seem gone, but the divorce decree means nothing to a creditor or the credit reports.

The judge said your ex had to pay the Visa, but what if those payments are made late? Any late payments will go on your credit report. In fact, that goes for any account you held jointly during your marriage. When the lender gave you the funds, when you signed the dotted line, they did not care if you were married, domestic partners, business partners, or even friends. They gave you the account because you both applied for it.

So how do you make sure this doesn't happen? The only way to protect your credit with a divorce is to get your ex to pay off the account. If that is not a financial possibility, try getting your name taken off the account. Creditors sometimes require reapplying for the same account or establishing a new account with a balance transfer.

In the end, make sure any and all joint accounts with zero balances are closed at the time of your divorce. That way there's no possibility of you being responsible for any new debt.

Tell me your nightmare in the comments below and we'll get to the heart of your problem and you'll learn how to get on with your financial life.