I got married at the age of nineteen. When I filed for divorce, I was twenty-four.
Getting divorced proved to be far more difficult than getting married. I hired a long-time family friend as my divorce attorney. My ex hired an attorney with a bad attitude to match his own.
On our first trip to the courthouse, my husband’s attorney demanded that I sign a quit claim deed for the house we owned. He declared that I had abandoned my husband and all my responsibility to live with my parents “on a bubble,” as he called it while holding up his thumb and forefinger to form a circle.
I nodded my head, not caring what I had to sign as long as it brought me one step closer to freedom. Unfortunately, no one explained that a quit claim deed only relinquished my stake in the home, not my responsibility to pay the mortgage.
That fact seems clear now. At the time, I was only twenty-four years old and rather naïve. I had no idea that signing those papers meant I was still legally bound to pay for a house to which I no longer had any rights.
After signing the appropriate paperwork under the watchful eyes of our individual attorneys, my husband and I were given a new court date and told when to appear at the courthouse to finalize the divorce.
The next time I met with my attorney at the courthouse, I discovered that I would be responsible for half the marital debt, regardless of who had incurred it, and my husband had been living off of credit cards since the day I moved out. I was already paying credit card bills of my own. My only other option was filing for bankruptcy.
I wasn’t comfortable filing for bankruptcy. So, I told my attorney that I was prepared to make payments on my half of the marital debt until it was paid. He urged me to reconsider and sent me home to await another court date.
Months later, I arrived at the appointed time and date only to learn that there were new developments in the divorce case. During my absence, my husband had received multiple preapproved credit card offers in the mail. They were all in my name. He had merrily forged my name on the bottom of every document and mailed them back in the provided self-addressed stamped envelopes.
In return, he received shiny new credit cards with my name embossed on them, which he used to obtain cash advances, goods and services. In order to go through with the divorce, I had to agree to pay half the marital debt, and that debt had just risen by tens of thousands of dollars.
My attorney sent me home to think about my next move specifically bankruptcy. We scheduled a new court date. I kept paying my personal credit card debt each month.
When I arrived for the next court date, I learned that my husband had repeated the process. As a couple, we were deeper in debt than ever. Also as a couple, we were jointly responsible for the debt despite recent credit card debt being in my name only and despite my name having been forged on the paperwork used to obtain the cards.
If I wanted to declare bankruptcy, I would have to do so prior to signing divorce papers. Otherwise, I would be responsible for my half of the debt.
I said I didn’t want to file bankruptcy, and it was true. However, I was beginning to crack.
Our next court date was a full year after I moved out of the home I’d helped buy. I’d been assured that my husband wouldn’t forge my name on any more credit card applications, preapproved or otherwise.
That’s when I found out that he hadn’t paid the mortgage for the last twelve months, continuing to live in the home we’d once shared until the sheriff forcibly removed him, his cousin and his friends. The bank foreclosed on the house and sold it at auction, and I was never even notified. After all, I had signed a quit claim deed.
Our total debt was now in excess of $100,000.
“I’ll do it,” I told my attorney. “I’ll file for bankruptcy.”
Once again, I left the courthouse as a married woman instead of the carefree divorcée I’d imagined I’d be by then.
I hired a bankruptcy attorney with money I borrowed from my parents, who had already paid my divorce attorney. We went to bankruptcy court, where I sat in a room filled with other adults in similar situations.
To my surprise, I didn’t have to sit in front of a judge individually. He absolved the entire room of debt in one fell swoop, and I was free to leave for nothing more than the cost of my lawyer’s fee. It was the deal of the century.
I showed up for my final court date. This time, instead of meeting with my attorney in a windowless back room, he led me to court.