Family Court Cannot Eliminate Your Liability For Debt

It’s an all-too-common scenario: you get divorced and your divorce decree says that your husband is supposed to pay your outstanding credit card bill, or that your wife has to repay a personal loan the two of you obtained during your marriage. Whether you agreed to that division of responsibilities or the court decided which of you should pay which bills, it’s a court order now, and ignoring it can bring legal sanctions.

Still, many people do ignore these orders, either intentionally or because financial circumstances don’t allow them to make the payments as planned. That’s typically when the other spouse gets a call from the credit card company or the bank demanding payment. Of course, most people aren’t troubled by the initial call; they simply explain that they’re no longer responsible for the debt. And then something happens that surprises most people. The credit card company or the bank tells them they’re wrong.

The next step is a call to the divorce lawyer. “Tell them I don’t have to pay this!” And that can bring another ugly surprise, because in the vast majority of cases the lawyer explains that the person IS still responsible for that debt.

When a married couple applies jointly for credit, both of them take on a legal obligation. When the parties divorce, the credit card company or the bank isn’t a party to the divorce. The creditor isn’t in the courtroom, and the Family Court does not have the authority to change the terms of the credit card/loan contract the couple entered into.

Thus, when the spouse who wasn’t ordered to pay the debt produces a copy of the divorce decree and says, “Look, I don’t have to pay this!” the creditor will likely say, “That has nothing to do with us,” and the creditor will continue to pursue the debt. The creditor may then submit the debt to a collections attorney if the debt remains unpaid. Worse yet, the debt will show up on both spouses’ credit reports as a collection item.

Thus, if you think your spouse may not pay a debt assigned to him or her, be sure to talk to your attorney about finding solutions that will protect your credit.

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