Divorce does not affect your obligation on a mortgage

Q. 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?

A. 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.

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

A. 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.

Q. I received a letter from a debt collector about a 15 year-old credit card debt. He has offered to settle for about 1/2 of the full amount. Before I settle, I want to know what can happen if I don’t pay.

A. 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 lawsuit 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 settle this for less than the full amount, be sure to get the terms of the settlement in writing before making a payment.

Q. My property owner’s association fined me for violating the rules. They told me if I don’t pay the fine, they will foreclose on my house. Are they for real? Can I really lose my house for not paying a $100 fine?

A. As you may know, a property owner’s association may foreclose on property when the homeowner does not pay dues or other assessments. The law, however, does not permit a property owner’s association to foreclose for liability based on a fine or attorney’s fees associated with the collection of the fine. The association might sue to collect, but it will not be able to foreclose.

Q. My mother is being harassed by a debt collector for her brother’s debts. The last phone call scared her because they threatened to take her house. How can I stop them from harassing her?

A. Debt collectors – that is, someone collecting a debt for another – are strictly regulated by federal law. Based on what you say, this debt collector has violated several provisions of this law, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. This law generally prohibits a debt collector from contacting anyone other than the debtor about the debt. It also prohibits any harassing conduct or making threats of conduct prohibited by law. Texas law does not allow the debt collector to take your mother’s house for her brother’s debts, and threatening to do so is unlawful.

I suggest you take a look at the debt collection section of my Web site. Your mother should then contact the Federal Trade Commission and consider speaking with a consumer attorney.

Want to know more about your legal rights? Visit my Web site, www.peopleslawyer.net

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