Editorial Policy

Expert Q&A: Love and Credit Card Judgments

Erica Sandberg

June 30, 2011

QDear Erica,
I have a credit card judgment from ’09 for $2,000. I do not work or have any assets of my own. Everything is in my husband’s name: car, house and bank account. Since all the furniture was paid for by my husband, could a debt collector have a sheriff come for the furniture to pay on my debt? My husband’s name was not on the judgment. We live in New Jersey. Mary

ADear Mary,
So let me get this straight: You’ve been sued for a debt, you and your husband have some assets and you’re afraid that the company that won a monetary judgment might be able to collect what’s due. Before getting into the legality of what the judgment creditor can do to force the matter, I’d like to cover how you can pay. This way, you can solve the problem instead of avoiding it.

Option 1: Have your husband liquidate an account or sell some property, then apply the cash to the amount you owe. As a couple, you’re in this together, right? Attack the problem as a unified force. I’m going to assume that he would want you to stop stressing about all this and would like it to be resolved so it doesn’t harm your credit or merged finances any further. Ask Erica

Option 2: I understand that you don’t work at the moment, but if you can, go forth and secure some type of employment. Accumulate some cash and rid yourself of the $2,000 weight that’s dragging you down. Of course, if you do become employed, a portion of your wages may be withheld and sent to the judgment creditor (a wage garnishment). However, this isn’t such a bad thing, is it? You’d be paying the debt, which is what you want. Send the rest of your paycheck while you’re at it, so you don’t extend the process further.

If you don’t use one of the above methods of resolution, I’m afraid you have many anxious days and sleepless nights ahead of you. In the state of New Jersey, a monetary judgment may be enforced or revived for twenty years from the date of entry.

Now, you ask if your husband is off the hook for collection, and much of the answer depends on whether or not you reside in a state with community property laws on the books. New Jersey is not one of them, but if it was, then assets and liabilities that were accumulated and incurred during the course of the marriage belong to both parties equally. This would mean that his nonexempt assets could be at risk of liens (where the title to the property would be unclear, and when sold, some or all of the proceeds would go to the judgment creditor) and levies (the forced sale of property and drainage of certain types of bank accounts).

Even if you did live in a community property state, however, there would be other factors to consider. For example, you don’t make it clear if you were sued for the balance before the two of you tied the knot, but if you did, his stuff might be safe. Or if he inherited or was gifted property as an individual, the company that sued you might not be able to touch it.

As it stands, it looks like your husband’s separate assets and earnings are protected from liens, levies and garnishments — but yours might not be. You’ve got a lot of years of this judgment locked tight to your ankle, so stop trying to run from it and pay the darn thing.