Know Your Rights: Divorce does not affect your obligation on a mortgage

By Richard Alderman
July 21, 2012 at 2:21 a.m.

In my divorce settlement my spouse received the home that we owned. She also is required to make all the payments. My name, however, is still on the mortgage. What do I need to do to remove my name from documents pertaining to this home?

I seem to be asked this question a lot.

The divorce is between you and your ex-spouse. It does not affect your relationship with the mortgage company. You are still responsible for the mortgage, and if she stops paying, the mortgage company could come after you to collect.

To have your name removed from the mortgage documents, you need to get the mortgage company to agree to remove you (very unlikely) or have your ex refinance in her own name. Assuming she will agree, refinancing probably is your best option.

My daughter stole my credit card and made more than $2,000 in purchases. I didn't discover this until I received the bill. Do I owe this money?

If your credit card is lost or stolen, any charges are considered unauthorized and you are not responsible for more than $50. If your daughter did not have permission to use the card, she is no different than any other thief.

This means the charges were unauthorized and you should not be responsible. Because it is a family member, however, it may be difficult to convince the credit card company that your daughter did not have your permission to use the card.

My guess is that the credit card company will expect you to file, or assist them in filing, criminal charges against your daughter if you do not want to pay the bill.

I received a letter from a debt collector about a 15-year-old credit card debt. He has offered to settle for about one half of the full amount. Before I settle, I want to know what can happen if I don't pay.

Based on what you say, there may be very little that can happen if you don't pay. Although you still owe the debt after 15 years, under Texas law, a suit to collect a credit card debt must be filed within four years. If a lawsuit is filed now, you have the right to have the suit dismissed under what is called the "statute of limitations."

Additionally, adverse information, such as delinquent debts, stay on your credit report for only seven years. Under this rule, your debt became obsolete eight years ago and should no longer be reported. Even though a different person is collecting the debt, it is the same debt and the seven-year period does not start over.

The bottom line is that there is not much that can happen if you don't pay, but as far as I am concerned, if you can afford to pay your past-due bills, you should. If you do agree to settle this for less than the full amount, be sure to get the terms of the settlement in writing before making a payment.

Richard Alderman, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391.



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