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Why you can't check your spouse's credit report

You're contemplating divorce, or you think that your spouse is. One of the things that you may be concerned about is your spouse's financial situation. Is he or she in serious debt that you don't know about? Is there money in accounts that you're not aware of.

Understandably, many people want to do some due diligence before the formal papers are filed, particularly if they haven't been the one handling the finances during the marriage. That due diligence for some includes checking their spouse's credit reports. Don't! You could land yourself in some serious legal trouble and likely add conflict to the divorce.

You may have the personal information you need to access your spouse's credit history. However, you cannot request a report on someone else for anything other than what the Fair Credit Reporting Act deems a "permissible purpose." Checking up on your spouse's credit isn't one of those purposes.

What you should do is check your own credit, both prior to a divorce as well as during and after. The financial changes that occur during divorces can have a significant effect on your credit, even if you don't have a spouse who's draining your bank accounts or running up significant debt on your credit cards. If you see that your spouse is abusing your accounts or credit cards, you can take action, such as a fraud alert.

One important note: If your spouse owns a small business, you can legally access credit information on the business. The same federal laws don't apply to checking a business's credit as they do to checking an individual's credit.

It's important to discuss any concerns you have about actions your spouse may be taking that could impact your credit or financial situation with your family law attorney. He or she can advise you of the best options. If you suspect that your spouse is hiding money, your attorney may recommend bringing in a forensic accountant. It's an additional expense, but the money uncovered could make it worthwhile.

It's essential to be in as strong a financial position as possible as you start a new life as a single person. That means having a good credit score. This will go a long way if you are renting an apartment, buying a new car, taking on additional child-rearing costs and opening new bank accounts and credit cards in your name.

Source: Money, "Can I Check My Soon-to-be-Ex-Husband's Credit While We are Getting Divorced?," Gerri Detweiler, April 20, 2016

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