Receiving phone calls from a debt collection agency can trigger a considerable amount of anxiety that spills over into the quality of your personal and professional relationships.
Under a landmark federal law passed in 1977, third party debt collectors are prohibited from implementing aggressive debt collection tactics. However, there is not a federal law that addresses the issue of a collection agency coming after you for a debt racked up by your ex-wife.
Overview of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
In response to growing consumer complaints, the United States Congress enacted the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The federal law clearly draws the line in the legal sand for bill collectors.
A debt collection agency cannot threaten you or use abusive language in an attempt to get you to pay off an outstanding credit card or personal loan account.
In addition, third party debt collectors are prohibited from implementing deceptive techniques to trick consumers into paying off debts they are not legally obligated to pay off. The FDCPA has established a time limit for bill collectors to follow when calling consumers at home, which runs between 8 am and 9 pm.
When a debt collection agency comes after you for an ex-wife’s debt, the first order of business is to ensure the agency complies with every provision of the FDCPA.
You might be legally responsible for some or all of an ex-wife’s consumer debt, but the legal obligation disappears when a bill collector violates one or more provisions of the FDCPA. For example, a bank calls you at home to request payment for a personal loan taken out by an ex-wife.
Although you are legally obligated to take care of the delinquent personal loan, you escape unscathed financially because the third party debt collector impersonated a law enforcement or federal government agency.
Spousal Debts Fall under State Laws
The FDCPA does not specifically address spousal debts. However, each of the 50 states follows one of two types of legal principles that deal with the debts racked up by ex-spouses.
Forty-two states follow the common law principle for addressing the debts incurred by ex-spouses. Common law makes the spouse who assumed a consumer debt solely responsible for making sure the debt is paid off in a timely manner.
An important exception to common law involves taking on debt to purchase one or more of life’s necessities, such as clothes and housing. Common law dictates that both spouses can be legally responsible for a debt that funds the purchase of one or more life necessities.
If you live in a community property state and your ex-wife signed up for a credit card account, you are just as legally responsible for the debt. Community is defined as the couple in marriage, even if only one spouse signed a credit card or personal loan application.
However, the important legal phrase to remember is “during a marriage.” After the divorce is finalize, any debt assumed by your ex-wife is 100% the legal responsibility of your ex-wife.
Speak with a FDCPA Lawyer
Divorce proceedings often drag on for months, even years. You think you are off the legal hook for an ex-wife’s debt, but your ex-wife might have signed up for a credit card account during the last month of the divorce proceeding.
The most effective strategy for ensuring you never have to cover an ex-wife’s debt is to work with a licensed consumer protection attorney that has extensive experience litigating FDCPA cases.
Speak with a FDCPA lawyer today to prevent your ex-wife from making you legally liable for a consumer debt you never knew existed.