Q: I live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I recently received a phone call from a debt collector about an old credit card debt that my former spouse and I had a long time ago. We have been divorced for over seven years, and this delinquent credit card debt was his per the divorce decree. Can I be held responsible for this debt?
A: First, it’s important to note that if you were a joint owner of the account (which means you both signed for the credit card and were jointly responsible for it) as opposed to simply an authorized user, then the fact that your husband was ordered to pay the debt by the divorce court unfortunately does not release you from legal responsibility for the debt. If your husband doesn’t pay, the credit card company can come after you to collect the debt and can report any delinquency or non-payment to the credit reporting agencies to be placed on your record. If you were to pay the debt to avoid this derogatory information on your credit report, your husband would be liable to you in the amount you paid and you could enforce this obligation in the court which ordered the divorce. But as between you and the credit card company, your divorce decree means nothing. However…
In Indiana, the statute of limitations on the collection of credit card debt is six years. The statute of limitations is an affirmative defense to a lawsuit, so what that means is that if the credit card account was delinquent for more than six years at the time the lawsuit against you was filed, your attorney can have the lawsuit dismissed. IT DOES NOT MEAN A DEBT COLLECTOR IS NOT ALLOWED TO TRY TO COLLECT THE DEBT FROM YOU. A debt collector can attempt to collect the debt forever. But since you know any lawsuit they brought against you could be dismissed, the bottom line is that you don’t have to pay the debt. And since derogatory information like this can only stay on your credit report for seven years (from the date the account was first delinquent), the debt collector has nothing whatsoever to hold over your head. But as long as the debt collector follows the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, it can write you and call you and try to convince you to pay the debt.
Providing you don’t feel compelled to pay this debt out of the goodness of your heart, I suggest that you send the debt collector a letter advising them to cease contacting you about the debt. If they call or write you again after that, contact Indiana Consumer Law Group/The Law Office of Robert E. Duff immediately, because that’s a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and we can help.