ATLANTA -- Kathy Figueroa wanted a clean break when she and her husband got divorced in 1988.
They had no children and few assets. So the property settlement amounted to splitting up the debts. She took the car loan, a personal loan and three credit-card bills. He kept the mobile home loan and two credit-card bills.
Mrs. Figueroa, now remarried, paid off her debts. But her ex-husband filed for bankruptcy last year. He moved from the mobile home, which was repossessed and sold. Now, a collection agency is after her for the balance, $13,826, and she is trying to work out a settlement.
The 27-year-old Lawrenceville, Ga., resident is liable. Her name is on the account as a joint signer.
"I thought I was protected by my divorce papers," she said, "but I wasn't."
What happened to Mrs. Figueroa occurs frequently, according to credit experts and divorce and bankruptcy attorneys. While it has been a problem for years, it is becoming a bigger one as record numbers of people file for bankruptcy.
"If you and your spouse are joint signers on a bill, no matter what the divorce decrees, if your ex goes bankrupt or simply decides not to pay [without filing bankruptcy], then you pay up," said Katie Shern, education director of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Atlanta.
About one-fourth of the agency's clients are in financial trouble because of divorce, she said, including former spouses defaulting on debt obligations.
"Regardless of what two people agree to in a divorce's property settlement, the creditor is not a party to that agreement," explained Joel A. Freedman, an Atlanta bankruptcy attorney. "The creditor has every right to come after her."
And, he added, "husbands get stiffed as often as wives do."