Woman forced to pay ex-husband's debt

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- Getting stuck with a bill you do not think you owe can be frustrating. One Valley woman knows exactly what it's like. She is on the hook for a $2,000 debt she said is not hers.

This is a common complaint to 3 On Your Side from people who went through a divorce. They do not understand how they can get stuck with a debt that belongs to an ex-spouse.

“Three years was perfect and then after that it went down the tubes," said Dolores Ferguson about her marriage.

Ferguson said she fell for her husband pretty quickly. In fact, they married after just four weeks of dating.

Still, before they tied the knot, Ferguson felt the need to protect herself financially so the former couple signed a prenuptial agreement.
"We made a pre-agreement because I own a house and I have a daughter so I have to protect my daughter and what I make on my 401K," explained Ferguson.

Ferguson said, unfortunately, things didn't pan out so she divorced her husband in 2011. She thought her ordeal was over with, until she received a phone call.

"I got a phone call that said he owes money about $2,000 on payday loans and I said we don't have a thing to do because we're not together anymore," said Ferguson.

Apparently that did not matter because Ferguson said she received a court order garnishing her wages.

"When I got the letter I was like just shaking and crying because I'm like why," said Ferguson.

Ferguson said she couldn't understand how her wages were being garnished when she had a prenuptial agreement and a divorce decree stating each party was responsible for their own debt.

“I thought I protected myself because I had a prenup and the divorce decree said so, well how does a woman protect themselves what did I do wrong that I couldn't protect myself financially," said Ferguson.

Attorney Jose Montano said prenuptial agreements are sometimes misunderstood by those who use them.

"It means something but it's just between the parties who signed the prenuptial agreement," explained Montano.

Montano said a prenuptial agreement is good for protecting certain assets, but when it comes to owing someone money prenuptial agreements may get watered down.

"When it comes to creditor, you know, the creditors aren’t' parties to the prenuptial agreement so they can still go after either one," Montano said.

That's not good news for Ferguson who feels she shouldn't have to pay the debt. 

Montano said there are some options in these situations. He said Ferguson and other ex-spouses who find themselves on the hook for a debt they don't can declare bankruptcy.

Montano also said Ferguson can pay the debt and then sue her ex-husband for the money.

Ferguson said she does not like either option and wants others to know what happened to her can happen to them.

"What did I do wrong that I could not protect myself financially?" asked Ferguson out of frustration.

People who do receive a court order demanding money should respond immediately and not ignore it. A timely response can help with negotiations.