Divorce often takes a heavy financial toll, leaving a splitting spouse with joint debt from the marriage, at least $5,000 in new debt and a sunken credit score, a poll conducted by MoneyWise.com and Debt.com has found.
Though the results would seem to make a strong argument for couples to try to work out their differences and stay together — for the sake of their bank accounts — most respondents said they didn't even consider the less extreme step of separating instead of divorcing, to avoid paying a big financial price.
Divorce and debt typically go together
MoneyWise and Debt.com surveyed nearly 800 people who identified themselves as either "divorced" or "remarried" during November and December 2019.
Four in 10 respondents said divorce had left them saddled with debt of more than $5,000.
Weddings have become notoriously expensive — approaching $40,000, on average — but ending a marriage isn't cheap either.
Various studies have put the average price tag for a divorce at between $13,000 and $15,000, including attorneys fees, court costs, and expenses related to joint property that must be split in some way, such as the cost of an appraisal on the family home.
Divorce debt also comes not only from the legal costs but also from household bills that are divided as part of the settlement.
In some states, courts divvy up debts taken on during the marriage based on whichever ex-spouse ran up the debt or is named on it. But in other states that have "community property laws," a debt may be split down the middle, regardless of who's responsible.
In the survey, 43% said they're now holding the bag for joint debt from a marriage. An ex in that situation who has other, personal debts, including credit card balances, may need to seek out a low-interest debt consolidation loan to help pay it all off.
Divorce can tank your credit score
As divorce thrusts exes deeper into debt, their credit scores often suffer. Scores plummeted by 50 points or more for 38% of respondents in the survey.
With a 50-point drop, a credit score that's "very good" can become merely "good," making it more difficult for a consumer to take out a mortgage or other loans, or open new credit cards. Rod Griffin, director of consumer education at the credit bureau Experian, says exes need to take protective measures.
"While you work to remove yourself from joint accounts, continuing to pay your bills on time is the best way to protect yourself and your financial health following a divorce," Griffin says. "Send in at least the minimum payment due on all joint bills to avoid damaging your credit history and credit scores."
But despite the risk to credit scores and the other big financial complications that can arise from divorce, an overwhelming 88% said they didn't consider merely separating in order to avoid getting saddled with debt and potentially saving thousands of dollars.
MoneyWise.com and Debt.com also didn't find any major differences in post-divorce debt and credit scores between those who identified as divorced and those who indicated they'd remarried — meaning you're likely to carry the financial hangover from a divorce into a new marriage.
Finally, here's one more illustration of the close relationship between debt and divorce: 39% of those who completed the survey said bills and financial difficulties played a role in their breakup.
That's a reminder of how vitally important it is for couples to communicate about money matters, including goals, spending habits and debt.
"By talking about money early and often in a relationship, you can avoid surprises that may cause damage to your relationship and financial health down the line," Griffin says.