Editorial Policy

Force Ex to Pay Up in Small Claims Court

Erica Sandberg

April 6, 2012

QDear Erica,

I’m hoping that you can help me settle a problem. I have a Visa credit card that I allowed my ex-fiance to use while we were planning our wedding. He did not have a card at the time (he had very bad credit), so we used mine to put the deposit down on the reception hall, the cake, the caterer and the limousine service.

After we called off the wedding, I was able to get out of these bills, so no money was charged to my card. But my ex did buy a tuxedo that he can’t return because he had it tailored. That charge was $895.87. I already owed about $1,000 on my card, and the limit is $2,000. So that means that I can’t use it at all until he pays me back. At first he said he would pay me back, but then he stopped taking any of my calls or returning my texts or emails. I know he’s working, though, so he can pay me. He just doesn’t want to. What do I do now? — Delilah

AHi Delilah,

What do you do now? First, go to the nearest cheery bar or restaurant with some real friends to toast your dodging a bullet by not marrying Mr. Spend and Sprint. After that, you can go in any of these directions:

    • Continue to hound the guy until he finally pays up.
    • Eat the charge, chalking it up to considerable savings when compared to the price of a divorce.
    • Sue for the money in small claims court.

Ask Erica

Only you can decide which way to turn — but if I were in your position, I’d sic the law on him. Pursuing a deadbeat takes so much time and energy and may not produce the result you want. Yet he owes you nearly $1,000, which is a significant sum. His actions are also hurting your credit report and score, so forgiving his debt would not be acceptable to me.

If you’re fed up enough to take your ex to court, let him know your intentions. Any method of contact that makes it likely he’ll receive the message will be sufficient. Say that you will sue him in small claims court by a specific date if he doesn’t submit a money order for the amount he charged to your credit card. This should  be enough to get him to pay up.

In the event he continues to play dodge ball, proceed with the process. The nice thing about small claims court is that you get to resolve such matters quickly, cheaply and without a lawyer. Do make a decision soon, though. Each state has a statute of limitations on these lawsuits, and you don’t want your right to sue to expire. When you’ve decided, file your case in the small claims court near you and pay the fee (usually about $30 to $50). Your hearing date will typically be scheduled within 70 days.

And then go to court. Both you (the plaintiff) and your former love (the defendant) will appear before a judge to present your cases. Be sure to bring the credit card statement that shows the charge for the tux. After hearing your testimonies and reviewing the evidence, the judge will rule in favor of one of you. Assuming you win, your ex will be slapped with a monetary judgment that will appear on his credit reports.

What happens if he still refuses to pay? The court should help enforce the judgment. Methods vary by state law, but can include collection agencies, forced turnover of personal property and money in bank accounts, and wage garnishments.

With the repercussions so unpleasant, your former fiance just may do an about-face and cut you a check — before he has to explain to a skeptical judge why he’s keeping but not paying for his wedding suit.