Ex-spouse's bankruptcy can be problem after divorce

BY RICHARD ALDERMANN

My husband and I were divorced about six months ago. The divorce decree says he is responsible for most of our debts. He now has filed for bankruptcy. Can the creditors still come after me for debts that he doesn't owe because of his bankruptcy?

As you seem to understand, after a bankruptcy, the person who filed is "discharged" from his or her debts. In your husband's case, this means he no longer has any liability for the debts that were part of his bankruptcy proceeding, including the debts he agreed to pay as part of your divorce. Your husband's bankruptcy, however, does not affect your liability. To the extent that you were also liable on any of those debts, you remain responsible.

The bottom line is that a divorce is between the parties to the marriage. It does not affect liability to creditors. If you owed money before the divorce, for example on a joint account that was subject to your husband's bankruptcy, you will still owe that money after the divorce.

In many cases, when one spouse files bankruptcy it makes sense for the other to also file. This is an option you should consider. If you pay, you also probably have the right to seek reimbursement from your ex-husband, based on the terms of your decree.

With all of the excitement surrounding the Texans getting into the playoffs, I notice many people were getting a Texans logo tattoo. Does the tattoo artist need to be licensed by the Texans or NFL to do this? Can he be sued?

As far as the law is concerned, a tattoo artist should not copy the Texans' logo without permission. If the Texans or NFL wanted to sue, they probably could. Whether they sue, however, will depend on many factors outside of the law. It may not be good for team support to start suing.

I owe money for a student loan. A collector told me that if I did not promptly make arrangements to pay, he would garnish my wages. I thought wage garnishment was illegal in Texas.

I am often asked this question. As a general rule, wage garnishment is prohibited in Texas. There are, however, a few exceptions to this rule. Wage garnishment is permitted for child support, certain taxes and student loans. In other words, what you were told is true. I suggest you work out an acceptable payment plan.

My mother died last year. I am the sole beneficiary of her estate. It is worth about $600,000. How much should I expect to pay in gift taxes?

You will not have to pay anything. First, you do not pay gift taxes on money you inherit; the estate pays any taxes that are due. More importantly, under current law, no taxes are due unless the estate is valued at more than $5 million.

I owe a payday loan from 2008. I know I owe the money; I just have been unable to pay. A debt collector has been calling me, and now is calling family and neighbors telling them I am a dead-beat. Is this legal?

Under a federal law called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, it is unlawful for a debt collector to call anyone except the debtor. The only exception is with respect to calls simply to try to locate the debtor. Based on what you say, the debt collector has violated this law by calling your family and neighbors.

Under this law, you are entitled to whatever damages you suffer as a result of the debt collector's conduct, as well as statutory damages of up to $1,000. I suggest you let the debt collector know that you believe he is violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and you expect he will stop contacting other people. You also may want to think about a claim in small claims court or speaking with a consumer attorney. For more information about this law, check out the debt collection section on my website, listed below.

Richard Aldermann, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. His column appears weekly in the Victoria Advocate. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391. He also maintains a Web page at www.peopleslawyer.net.