Why is the Hospital Coming After My Husband for the Medical Debt of His Ex-Wife?

Question:

Dear Steve,

My husband’s ex-wife incurred a hospital bill for a broken leg prior to their divorce. she was not covered under a health plan at that time, so she was responsible for the entire hospital bill. As part of their divorce agreement, which was signed by the Judge, the hospital debt was assigned to to the wife. By the way, It was a county hospital that she owed the money too.

My husband was contacted by the County of San Bernardino a few days ago, letting him know he is also responsible for debt, because they were married at the time, and that because she has not paid (it was about 5-6 years ago) the county would be coming after him for the debt, regardless of the divorce agreement.

My husband went to get a certified copy of the divorce agreement, as we were intending to dispute this debt. When he got the copy, the portion of the divorce agreement that assigned the debt to his ex-wife was crossed out with a case number next to it.

My questions are:

Is my husband responsible for this debt, even though it was assigned to her?

It it legal for the county to make changes to this divorce agreement without notifying the parties involved?

Jennifer

Answer:

Dear Jennifer,

You have the same misconception of debts and divorce that many people have. The divorce agreement is an agreement between your husband and his ex-wife. It does not alter any relationship between them and their creditors at the time they were married.

So what the divorce agreement is actually saying is the ex-wife agreed to repay that debt. But if she does not pay, it will land on your husband. Your husband can take her to court and attempt to force her to pay.

You should read Making a Clean Financial Break at Divorce.

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Ultimately this will all come back to the financial admission documents at the time the ex-wife was treated. Typically those documents will clearly state both parties are responsible.

“In terms of the debt of medical bills accrued during marriage, the nine community property states typically hold both divorcing spouses liable in an even 50/50 split for bill payment. This is true even if all of the costs were amassed by only one spouse.” – Source

Regardless of the mark on the divorce agreement it sounds as if he is on the hook for the debt if she does not pay.

Sincerly,


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Steve Rhode

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