Divorce is between husband and wife, not their creditors

Q. My ex-wife and I signed a note to buy a car. Our divorce decree clearly says she keeps the car and she is obligated to pay the note. She has stopped paying and now the bank is asking me to pay because I also signed the note. What are my legal obligations?

A. Basically, a divorce decree is between the parties to the divorce. It does not affect existing creditors. In other words, you and your ex-wife have agreed that she will pay the note. As far as the bank is concerned, however, you both still owe the money.

If your wife does not pay as promised, the bank has the right to seek payment from you. You cannot simply say to the bank, “The divorce decree says my wife will pay this.” If you pay, however, you in turn have the right to seek payment from your ex-wife, pursuant to your decree.

Q. A car wash damaged my car. They say they will fix it but only if I use their body shop. Can they force me to use their shop? I want to get it repaired by the dealer.

A. If the car wash is responsible for the damage to your car, it cannot require that you use a particular repair shop. As far as the law is concerned, the car wash owes you whatever it will cost to repair the damage it caused. The amount of damages usually is determined by estimates from repair shops. The car wash can submit an estimate from its shop as proof of damages, but cannot force you to have your car repaired at a particular shop.

I should note, however, that even though you cannot be forced to use any particular shop, using one recommended by the car wash might save you a lot of aggravation and a possible lawsuit. If it will settle only if you use its shop, you must balance the negatives regarding that shop against the time, expense and possible consequences that might result if you are forced to file a claim in small claims court. I suggest you investigate the repair shop they recommend to see whether it is a business you would be satisfied to use.

Q. One of my credit card companies closed my account because I was paying late and missed a payment. My question is, if they closed my account, can they still charge interest and late fees to the account.

A. The credit card company’s rights are based on your agreement. I assume that under the terms of your agreement, the credit card company had the right close your account if you were late making payments. This decision, however, has no affect on your liability to them for any charges previously incurred. If you owe the company money, you must pay it back in accordance with the terms of your agreement. This includes paying interest and late fees, when applicable.

Q. I want to build a new fence between my yard and my neighbor’s. Do I have the legal right to put the fence on the property line?A. As far as the law is concerned, you have no right to “trespass” on your neighbor’s property. Putting a fence on your neighbor’s property would be trespassing. In other words, you may build the fence on your property, up to the property line. If you want to put any of the fence on their property or even have the workers go onto their yard, you must obtain their consent.

Q. I received a letter telling me I won a lottery. They said I would be paid $5,000 by cashier’s check as soon as I agreed to pay their fees. I was told that after I agreed, I would receive the check and could then cash it and send $1,000 to cover their processing fees. I did as requested. I received the check and deposited it in my account. After I received a credit I sent them $1,000. Now the $5,000 check has bounced and my bank wants the $1,000 I withdrew from my account back. Do I owe this money?

A. This is one version of a very common scam, and you owe the bank $1,000. Many people treat a cashier’s check as cash. In fact, a counterfeit cashier’s check is not worth the paper it is printed on.

Whenever you deposit a check, even a cashier’s check, the money is not yours until the check is finally paid. In most cases, however, your bank will give you the right to withdraw and use the funds represented by the check before the check has cleared. That means if the check ultimately bounces, your bank will debit your account for the credit it gave you, and you will owe the bank for any funds you withdrew. It is as if the bank has made you a loan, and now you must pay it back.

The bottom line is don’t spend money from a check until you are positive that the check has been paid by the bank it is drawn on. In fact, my advice is to never take a check when the person asks you to return part of the amount in cash. It may sound like a good deal, but will almost always cost you money.