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I am divorced and getting calls about a debt that is no longer my responsibility under the divorce decree or property settlement agreement. Can a debt collector try to collect this debt from me?

Yes. A debt collector may contact you to collect the debt if your name is still on the debt or loan agreement, or if you are otherwise still legally responsible for the debt. 

The CFPB’s Debt Collection Rule clarifying certain provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) became effective on November 30, 2021.

A divorce decree generally doesn't change the original loan or credit agreement. Unless you were contractually released by the creditor or your former spouse refinanced the loan and removed your name from the loan, you still owe the debt and the creditor may still hold you responsible. This applies to any loans or debts you owed with your former spouse such as auto loans, mortgage loans, personal loans, medical bills, or utilities. 

Common Areas of Confusion:

  • Taking your name off of a title for a home or a vehicle does not take your name off the mortgage or auto loan. You are still responsible for the underlying loan.
  • Sending the debt collector or creditor a copy of your divorce decree doesn’t end your responsibility on a joint account. You are still responsible for the account or debt.

Credit Cards:

  • Generally, being an “authorized user” on someone’s credit card account doesn't make you responsible for the amount owed.
  • Telling a creditor to take your name off a joint credit card account only affects your responsibility for new charges. You are still responsible for the amount owed while your name was still on the account.

If you don't believe you owe the debt, and you contest it if a lawsuit is brought against you, it will be the duty of the creditor to prove to a court that you are legally responsible for paying the debt. You also have the right to “dispute” the debt when a collector begins collection efforts. Disputing the debt will require the collector to provide verification of the debt. The CFPB has prepared sample letters that you can use to respond to a debt collector who is trying to collect a debt along with tips on how to use them. The sample letters may help you to get information, stop or limit any further communication, or protect some of your rights.

If your divorce decree provided that your former spouse was responsible for the debt, and you had an attorney, you could contact that attorney for options. If you need a lawyer, you may be able to find lawyer referrals in your area by checking the American Bar Association website or your state bar association. Low income persons may qualify for free legal services through the local legal aid office

Tip: Contact the creditor and ask to be taken off any joint accounts to stop responsibility for future charges. Confirm that request in writing. The creditor may be able to suggest other options to remove you from the debt or account.