Follow-up 2A to People Being Sued

Yesterday I was telling you about Frank, Shirley and Kelly, and I could have told you about dozens, possibly hundreds, more. Their stories are typical of people being sued by debt collectors, and they’re typical of the people who choose to stand up and fight.

You may have noticed I didn’t say anything about whether Frank, Shirley or Kelly actually owed any money.

Actually, they probably did. There was some question in my mind about Kelly’s suits, and in all of them there was certainly a question about how much was owed, or to whom. But did they owe the money to someone? I’m almost sure they did. That is the situation faced by a majority of people being sued by debt collectors, and it doesn’t matter.

Law suits are a question of evidence, as I will discuss a little later – the debt collectors have to prove you owe the money if you fight, and they usually can’t.

On the other side of that, I know of plenty of people who have told me they didn’t owe anybody any money, but they didn’t fight. In those cases, the debt collectors got their judgments. A lawsuit is a contest. It isn’t about what is true – it’s about what you can prove (or not). Beating the debt collector is first about answering and then making them prove their case. It takes more than that, though, because they do have tricks up their sleeves.

So let’s talk briefly today about the debt industry and their tricks. We’ll follow up on this tomorrow with how it plays out in court – and what you can do about it.

The Debt Industry

American debt – and particularly consumer debt – has run completely rampant over the past twenty years. Americans now owe over a trillion dollars in consumer debt (mostly credit card debt), and much of that is “stressed.” Auto loans are another trillion, much of it “stressed.” That is, the people owing are walking on a tight line, and if anything happens, they could get knocked off it. And stuff does happen. You know it does. After a couple of late payments, loans are considered stressed, and it doesn’t take much more for people to stop being able to pay at all.

It’s actually impossible to get definite numbers, but it looks like at least a million lawsuits get filed per year based on consumer debt. It may be far more than that. When I was practicing law almost ten years ago, it was not unusual for over a hundred cases to come up in a single day in a single court room. And on one day there were over 700 cases on the docket. On a single day! In a single court room! In one county – in Missouri, hardly the biggest or most daring state of the Union.

In other words, when we talk about debt collection, we are talking about a truly gigantic machine. And I don’t need to tell you that most of the people getting “processed” by that machine are not Rockefellers. No, they’re normal, regular people, who in many cases were lured into unsustainable debt – and in almost all the cases certainly never wanted not to pay what they owed. But stuff happens.

Debts

Consumer debt is “transferrable.” That means that if you owe me $100, I can sell the right to collect that money to someone else. Don’t fall for the people who say that isn’t true – I’ve seen some of their videos on Youtube, and they’ll get you in trouble. A whole lot of debt gets sold in the U.S.

What happens is that big creditors – and this is mostly the banks that issue credit cards – sell debt that is in default (“bad” debt) to companies that specialize in collecting it. These companies are pretty big, and they end up with a whole lot of “claims” they are trying to collect. That all make sense to you?

And so on those days I mentioned where there are a hundred – or several hundred – lawsuits in court on a single day, there might be only a few debt collectors, and a few lawyers representing them, there at the time.

How can they do all this? Only one way. For the process to work, almost everybody being sued has to give up!

Most of them do it by not showing up at all (defaulting), but plenty of them do it by showing up to sign “whatever” it takes to delay the problem for a while (“give-up settlements”). Not two in a hundred actually fight – and probably not even one.

That means a single lawyer could “process” several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of judgments in an hour or two. Not bad work if you can get it! – If you’re a lawyer who doesn’t mind doing that to people.

If you’ve watched some of my videos, you may have seen me talk about debt law being “factory” law, and that’s what I mean. One lawyer handling a hundred cases in an hour – that’s assembly line work. So what does that mean to you? And how can it be helpful to know?

Factory Work

Whether you are being sued by a debt buyer or original creditor, you are being sued by a company that has a certain, routine way of doing what they do. They follow this routine because (1) they have so many cases; and (2) they need to keep their expenses to a minimum; and (3) it usually doesn’t matter what they have or do because most people will automatically give up once the lawsuit is filed.

In that scenario, spending any money on building their case is a waste of money, and debt collectors don’t like to do that. So they don’t.

Please understand: I’m not saying debt collectors are dumb or lazy. Economics drives their decision to do almost nothing to prepare their cases. And it is these same economics that give us such a good chance of winning. Your key to defending yourself and what you have is to take intelligent action. If you can do that, you can turn the tables on them completely.

Sounds so simple, right? We’ll show you why it’s true tomorrow.

Regards,

Ken

Follow-up1A – to People being Sued

If you are being sued, you probably don’t have a lot of time to make a decision about whether or how to defend yourself.  But you do have enough time to make a careful decision, because making the right decision is important, right from the beginning, when you’re being sued.

Your first question has to be whether to fight the debt collectors – or to let them get an easy judgment.  Since you’re reading this, you’ve probably decided to consider fighting. We have addressed the question of whether it makes sense to defend yourself many times. Here is just one sample (if you need it):

I obviously think you have an excellent chance of winning if you defend yourself. Now, of course nothing is guaranteed. When you’re dealing with the law, you are dealing with humans, and they can have prejudices that could affect you. If they follow the rules, you should almost always win. They – the courts and debt collectors – don’t always follow the rules, though, and they don’t always pay attention to you. So one of our main goals is to teach you how to MAKE them pay attention to you and follow the rules.

And then you use those rules to win. We’ll go into that a little more tomorrow, but today I want to remind you that, indeed, this thing works.

Here are a few things some of our members have said – you can find many more by looking at the comments to our videos on youtube, if you want.

Frank in Arizona

“Your materials are simply the best and finest anywhere for pro se defendants facing debt lawsuits.”

Frank was a single dad in Arizona who had developed some trouble paying his bills. The debt collectors harassed him for a while and then filed suit, asking for a large amount of money they said was owed, and attorneys’ fees on top of that, a total of over $15,000.

Naturally, he was very worried that they’d get a judgment and start garnishing his wages – and that the judgment would hang over him like a dark cloud. But he couldn’t afford a lawyer.

He joined us and filed an answer. With our help, he began the discovery process – and of course he encountered a stone wall with everything he did. The debt collectors are happy to file suit, but they’re never going to be reasonable about following the rules. No, they have to object to everything, almost randomly – they made claims of “attorney client privilege,” for example, for negotiations between the non-lawyer debt collector owners and the non-lawyer debt sellers. Lots of stuff like that.

We helped Frank work his way through all that.

Honestly, most debt collectors would have stopped at that – they were losing money as soon as he started fighting – but these guys were stubborn. They filed a motion for summary judgment.

Their motion made all the usual claims – that they could swear to records created by other people, that by negotiating he’d “admitted” owing money, and all the rest. It was scary, but it was BS.

With some guidance, Frank responded to the motion for summary judgment and beat it.

Beating a summary judgment motion just means you still have a trial, but it gives debt defendants a big edge. That’s because of the nature of the “proof” debt collectors always use. They don’t really have anything but records, records someone else made. Beat em at the summary judgment, and those records don’t look any better at trial – you’re going to win. But you still have the fight.

Meanwhile, two other debt collectors filed suit against Frank. He responded by answering the petition and beginning the process of defense. Frank actually laughed when he told me about it – he just wasn’t afraid of them anymore.

These collectors almost immediately dropped their lawsuits. They went away and have never been back.

After that, Frank was ready to move on with his life. He knew he could win, but he didn’t want to do the work to go to trial. He offered the initial debt collector $500 for a full settlement, including a removal of all credit references. They took him up on it, and Frank was ready to get on with his life.

Shirley P, in Detroit

“Yes, yes, yes. You were totally right about ‘strike hard and strike fast’ [our strategy on discovery].  Before court started today the debt plaintiff’s attorney asked me what I wanted, and I said dismissal with prejudice.  He completed the papers and I was out of there in ten minutes.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that, “next to death, Americans fear getting sued more than anything.” Holmes was a Supreme Court Justice, and he knew what he was talking about. So what was Shirley, a middle-aged black woman in Detroit, going to think?

She was great. She decided to join us and fight despite her worries.

The debt collectors gave up when they saw what she sent them for discovery, just as easy as that – and after she’d been so scared.

Kelly from Utah

He just said: “I won.”

And what an understatement that was! Kelly was being sued by debt collectors for a large amount of money, and he had to go through the discovery process and fight off a motion for summary judgment. And still, the debt collector insisted on going to trial. By the time that happened, Kelly was thoroughly prepared, and he destroyed their evidence and got the case dismissed with prejudice.

By the time Kelly got to court, he knew the law better than the other side. We’d practiced what might get argued and what to say. He was thoroughly prepared, and he deserved to win, and did.

I don’t want to write a book here, but I’ll tell you a little more about these cases tomorrow. Something that might, but probably won’t, surprise you.

Regards,

Ken

Thank You for Signing Up

Thank you for signing up for information from Your Legal Leg Up. As you know, our mission is to give regular people everything they need to beat the debt collectors and protect what they own.

We plan to give you some important information that will help you get or keep things under control and keep as much as you can from the debt collectors. We’ve just sent you an email confirmation link, and you’ll need to confirm your subscription before you get anything else from us.

The debt collection process is one big machine, in a way, but it does matter where you are in the process. According to your answers to the “What is Happening” field, we will send you information tailored to what is actually happening to you now and what you might want to do from there. The options are based on whether you are worried about your debts, being harassed by debt collectors, or actually being sued.

Please confirm your subscription. We look forward to helping you take control of your situation, whatever it might be.

Regards,

Ken

Please sign up for notifications

All members should by now have received an invitation or confirmation – I’m not sure what it will be called – which you need to click in order to receive emails from us. This is not a marketing device and won’t lead to a lot of commercials. Instead, it will allow us to send you reminders of teleconferences, time changes… and other member-related updates.

Future members will get this automatically when they sign up.

Rule 11 Federal Rules Civil Procedure

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Eleven (11) is the main rule in federal proceedings governing the  motives and actions of lawyers as to the content of what they say. Here are the all the rules, but below is Rule 11. Every state (as far as I know) has a rule comparable to this rule, and you should find and know your state’s rule.
Rule 11. Signing Pleadings, Motions, and Other Papers; Represen-
tations to the Court; Sanctions
(a) SIGNATURE.  Every pleading, written motion, and other paper
must be signed by at least one attorney of record in the attorney’s
name—or by a party personally if the party is unrepresented. The
paper must state the signer’s address, e-mail address, and tele-
phone number. Unless a rule or statute specifically states other-
wise, a pleading need not be verified or accompanied by an affida-
vit. The court must strike an unsigned paper unless the omission
is promptly corrected after being called to the attorney’s or par-
ty’s attention.
(b) REPRESENTATIONS TO THE COURT.  By presenting to the court
a pleading, written motion, or other paper—whether by signing,
filing, submitting, or later advocating it—an attorney or unrep-
resented party certifies that to the best of the person’s knowledge,
information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under
the circumstances:
(1) it is not being presented for any improper purpose, such
as to harass, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase
the cost of litigation;
(2) the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are war-
ranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for ex-
tending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for establish-
ing new law;
(3) the factual contentions have evidentiary support or, if
specifically so identified, will likely have evidentiary support
after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or dis-
covery; and
(4) the denials of factual contentions are warranted on the
evidence or, if specifically so identified, are reasonably based
on belief or a lack of information.

I Only Have Social Security and They’re Suing – What do I do?

What You Should Do if You Only Have Social Security

You will find a lot of material on our site addressing this question. It really boils down to two things: what does it cost to fight? And what does it cost if you lose?

What it Costs if you Lose

The good news is that, if your only asset is Social Security – or comes from Social Security (including age or disability benefits), you are “judgment proof.” That is, they can’t garnish your Social Security benefits. We don’t think that means you should just give up and ignore the suit, but it establishes a limit to the price of losing – it’s a low price.

There are other costs, however, that aren’t so clear. A judgment will hurt your credit report, for example, and this could affect insurance rates, credit eligibility, and even job opportunities. Since it isn’t garnishment, it’s a sort of hidden penalty, but under the wrong circumstances losing a debt suit can hurt you even if they can’t get anything that you own. These are the costs you will want to consider as you decide whether to fight

What Does it Cost to Fight?

We recommend our Litigation Gold Membership, which has a monthly cost, currently $20/month. In addition to that you will need to find a way to do the work associated with pro se defense, and you will need to get to court some to do the things that need to be done. If you are too frail or disabled to do these things, pro se defense won’t be good for you. If you are able to do them you’re in a great spot: it costs little to defend, your chances of winning are excellent, and the price of losing if you don’t win is very small.

You will enjoy our materials, and you will probably also enjoy – eventually – the experience of defending yourself in court. Likewise, the debt lawyer trying to sue you will very possibly go away once the important facts are known. All these things are why a lot of older people do actually defend themselves – the deck is stacked in their favor.

What if you have something more than Social Security?

Well, it depends on how much. What you have is what you could lose, minus state exemptions from collection which are pretty generous. But they have to beat you to get them. Our materials help you fight and win, and you might also find a law firm willing to take the case “pro bono.” That means for free as a part of social service that lawyers often do.

They’re Suing Me for A Lot – Won’t they Fight Harder?

Why the Amount the Debt Collector is Suing You For Almost Doesn’t Matter

From a normal consumer’s point of view, the threat posed by a suit for $500 or $1,000 is very, very different from one for $25,000 or $50,000. But the difference to the debt collectors is much less significant than you might think. There are several reasons for this, from the way they view risk to something called “opportunity cost.” We’ll discuss both of those things here. Our observation is that debt collectors do NOT treat cases for widely different amounts any differently – they follow their standard procedures.

Risk

As we discuss in our analysis of risk in regards to settlement, debt collectors look at three factors in evaluating their cases. These are risk of losing, price of winning, and chance of collecting.

Risk of Losing

Debt collectors regard the risk of losing to a pro se defendant as negligible. They don’t give any thought to losing at all, it would appear. Losing the case might have a devastating impact on your life, but to them it’s just all in a day’s work. And they don’t respect pro se defendants, so they don’t think they’ll lose anyway. Our materials are designed to help you try to wake them up to this risk a little bit, but for the most part the debt collector will think he’s going to win even after the judge issues judgment to you. Our members have experienced that attitude first-hand.

Price of Winning

Debt collectors take the price of winning far more seriously. For one thing, they start off knowing that getting the judgment will cost something. Every time you do anything that requires them to take action, it’s costing them more. They can see that, and they know that money is likely going away for good. Thus our materials aim to emphasize and increase this risk, and we are usually quite successful in doing so. Taking action that increases the cost of winning will have a significant impact on the way the debt collector values your case – it lowers the value of the case in the debt collector’s mind dramatically.

Of course if they’re suing you for $50,000, your actions wouldn’t seem likely to reduce the value of the case very much, right?

Wrong, and that brings us to the final risk factor, chance of collection.

Chance of Collection

Have you heard the expression that if you owe the bank $1,000 they own you, but if you owe them $1,000,000 you own them? This is related to the chance of collection factor. Banks know, and collectors know, that collecting $1,000 is usually possible against an unwilling defendant. But collecting a million dollars? Not going to happen. You probably won’t have it, and if you do, you’ll hide it.

That sets up a dynamic: the more you owe, the greater the collection risk discount. If they’re suing you for $25,000, nobody expects to collect anything like that. They might get a little more from you with a $25,000 judgment than a $1,000 judgment, but not enough to matter. In general.

Thus high dollar cases are not considered particularly valuable.

Opportunity Cost

Opportunity cost is the cost of doing one thing rather than another.

Remember that the amount of debt in the U.S. is essentially unlimited. That means the opportunity for suing (other) people is equally unlimited.

Now remember that debt collectors get judgments approximately 80% of the time by default. That means they can file suit if 100 cases and get 80 judgments in about an hour. If those judgments, conservatively speaking, are for $5,000 apiece, that’s $400,000 in an hour. And these numbers are not only theoretically possible, but I have seen them happen many times.

Now consider your case for $50,000. Even if they thought they could get that – which they almost definitely do not – if they have to spend five hours working for it, they’ll lose perhaps two million dollars in default judgments in that time. Does that sound like a wise business decision?

Now you can never tell what any one person will do in any one given situation, but the numbers are strongly against the debt collectors treating your case – of whatever amount it’s for – any different from all the others. I have never seen it play out any differently.

And that means that it makes sense to defend yourself as much in big-dollar cases as little dollar cases.

Should I Buy Your Motion for Summary Judgment Pack?

When Do you Need the Motion for Summary Judgment Pack?

If the other side has filed a motion for summary judgment against you and you want to defend only, you should get the Motion for Summary Judgment Defense Pack.

If the other side has filed a motion for summary judgment against you, and you want to defend and also file a motion for summary judgment against them on the same case, you should get the Motion for Summary Judgment Omni Pack.

And if you either want to file a motion for summary judgment against them (without their having filed one against you) you should get the Motion for Summary Judgment (Offense) Pack.

What is a Motion for Summary Judgment?

A motion for summary judgment is an “evidentiary” motion. That is, unlike a motion to dismiss, a motion for summary judgment seeks to determine a set of facts that are “uncontested” or not in dispute and asks the court to rule on how the law applies to them. What makes a judgment “summary” is that it is decided without a trial. A “motion” is the request to the court to issue the judgment.

Either party can file a motion for summary judgment. If the other side files one first, you put your response to theirs, and your own motion together and call it a “cross-motion.” Thus “cross-motion” really only refers to timing. Substantively, you will either be filing a motion for summary judgment against them, defending against their motion for summary judgment, or both.

Establish “Uncontested” Facts

Because disputes in the evidence are supposed to be resolved at trial, motions for summary judgment are supposed to be determined based only on “uncontested” facts. But “uncontested” and “facts” are terms of art, as you will see in the materials.  A fact is not established because you say it is so in the motion. A fact can only be established by evidence properly presented to the court. Likewise, a fact is not “contested” simply because you don’t like it or you say it isn’t so – it’s only contested by the admission of evidence that shows it isn’t so.

Illustration

Let’s make up an example to clarify how these things work. Suppose the debt collector is filing a motion for summary judgment that says you owe $1,000 on an old credit card. They put in an old statement showing you supposedly owe the money and an affidavit by one of their robo-signers that says the statement is “accurate” and that you haven’t paid the bill.

Their Case

That is pretty much exactly what the debt collectors do every time. Their evidence that you owe and haven’t paid is the credit card statement and the affidavit. They’ll say it’s “uncontested,” so what do you do?

Your Defense

You will object to the affidavit and credit card statement for legally powerful reasons (as shown by the summary judgment pack) and you will, if you can, add an affidavit of your own that says, roughly, “I don’t owe them, never owed them, didn’t get a statement, and never had an account with the bank they say this came from.”

Your effective objection SHOULD be enough, because it is up to them to present actual, admissible, evidence in support of their “uncontested facts.” But if you can add an affidavit of your own, the effect is much more powerful. Then you are both attacking their evidence and introducing contradictory evidence of your own.

Warning

Merely claiming in the Response to their Motion that you don’t owe the money would not keep their evidence from being “uncontested.” Understand? You must present evidence and attack the validity of their evidence.

Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment

Now (because of the nature of debt cases), if they can’t win a motion for summary judgment against you, you should almost always be able to win a cross-motion for summary judgment against them. That is, they have the burden of proof on their claim. If they can carry that burden, they will win the case. If they can’t, then they should lose (the whole case) – if you show it and file a cross-motion. Therefore, if they file a motion for summary judgment against you, you will almost always want to get the “Omni” MSJ pack. Filing a cross-motion does involve significantly more work, but if you can do so you might save yourself a lot of trouble later.

Your Motion for Summary Judgment

Suppose they don’t file a motion for summary judgment, but you have gone through discovery and found that the only things they have in support of their claims are an affidavit and the old statement used in the above example? As a matter of fact, that is typical. In that case you should consider filing your own Motion for Summary Judgment.

Motions for summary judgment require significant effort and require you to find out and follow various procedures rigorously.

So they are work.

Why You Should Do It

But if you win, you can cut short the process of the lawsuit and avoid trial. And even if you lose your motion for summary judgment you will be educating the judge to the issues and changing the way the judge and other side look at you. Therefore, we suggest you do it – if you have time after finding out through the discovery process that they don’t have what they need.

At a minimum, working your way through a motion for summary judgment will sharpen you tremendously on the law and facts of the case, and it will very likely result in winning one way or the other. Thus we recommend it if you can do it.

Motions for summary judgment are designed for situations where you can show certain decisive facts.

The Motion for Summary Judgment Pack is NOT…

The MSJ pack is not another way to get what you need to defend the lawsuit. It is material aimed at a specific procedural motion and moment in time. Defending yourself requires a commitment to a process. It could include motions to dismiss, answering the petition, filing a counterclaim, conducting discovery, moving to compel discovery, and various pretrial maneuvers. It rarely requires all of these things, but our Litigation Membership is what you need to prepare for the fight.

We would suggest that you might not ever need the motion for summary judgment pack, but even if you do need that, you will also want the litigation membership. The membership is the glue that holds all the parts of the lawsuit together.

Should I Buy Your Motion to Dismiss Pack?

Short Answer: Only if you need to file a motion to dismiss.

Long Answer – As follows:

When Should One Purchase our Motion to Dismiss Pack?

A lot of people buy our Motion to Dismiss Pack on the theory that they want the case against them to go away. It isn’t as simple as that. The motion to dismiss pack is applicable to situations where (1) you have filed a counterclaim and the debt collector moves to dismiss it, or (2) you have some legal basis for arguing that even if everything the petition against you is considered true the debt collector does not have a right to collect from you.

The first of these possibilities – that you are defending against a motion to dismiss – is obvious. If they want to dismiss, you will probably want to defend against that. Your motion to dismiss their claim is more of the question.

Purpose of Motion to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss is a way to “test the adequacy of the petition.” It is NOT a way to test whether the debt collector has evidence to support its lawsuit. Motions to dismiss are therefore appropriate, most generally, when you have a challenge to the company’s right to sue you in a specific court or in general, or when you have a challenge to the court’s power over you. There are also what are known as “equitable” considerations we will discuss.

The Debt Collector’s Right to Sue You

The main way this comes up is in jurisdictions where they have passed regulations on debt collectors which the collector has not followed. Most typically this is an issue of registering or not. Several states require debt collectors to register in some way before pursuing debt – and debt collectors often ignore those regulations. If yours did, a motion to dismiss on that basis would be a good idea.

Another way the right to sue you comes up – much less frequently – is that the petition fails to allege ownership of the debt. This could happen, for example, where ABC Collectors are suing you on a Citibank credit card. If they allege in the petition that they bought the debt, then you will want to find out what evidence they have, but this is part of the suit and not a motion to dismiss. If they fail to allege why you’re supposed to owe them on a debt apparently owing to Citibank, a motion to dismiss is probably in order.

The Court’s Right to Hear the Case

You may want to challenge the court’s power to hear the case against you. This arises in two ways. First, the suit could be brought somewhere other than the jurisdiction in which you live. You live in X county, and they bring suit in Y county and you never lived there. That would likely deprive the court of jurisdiction over you and constitute a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

The other, more common, reason for this sort of motion to dismiss has to do with service. Were you served correctly? And this question can be rather complicated. For present purposes, we merely say that a motion to dismiss is the appropriate way to challenge the court’s power over you, and this is a motion you would want to file before taking any other action in the suit. If you think you were not served properly, in other words, you will probably want to file a motion to dismiss.

“Equitable” Circumstances

There are certain gray areas that might be appropriate for a motion to dismiss, and these are called “equitable” considerations.

“Equity” is a historical reference to the way courts used to be in England, but for our purposes they refer to something more like moral rightness. If the debt collector waited too long to bring suit, if it did something to prevent you from making payments, or if you settled the case previously and they still sued you might all be examples of equitable defenses. While they DO involve evidence beyond the pleadings (the normal boundary line for motions to dismiss), you could probably bring these things as motions to dismiss. You would also be wise to plead them as “affirmative defenses” in your answer if you file an answer

What Motions to Dismiss are NOT for

You don’t file a motion to dismiss because you aren’t satisfied with attachments to the debt collector’s petition or don’t think they have the proof. Yes, you’ll attack their case – but later, and in another way. You don’t file a motion to dismiss because you just want the case to go away. And you don’t BUY a motion to dismiss pack here as an inexpensive way to defend the case in general. Our motion to dismiss pack is a specific product aimed at a specific situation. If it doesn’t apply to your situation, you will simply want to get the Gold Debt Litigation Membership and start doing the things you need to do to win the case.

They’re Suing Me and My Spouse

What to Do when Collectors Sue both Spouses

It often happens that a debt collector will sue both spouses – either for the debts of one of them, or if they both signed up for the account or made charges on it. Our materials will obviously help in this case, but the question is what you will want to do.

Can One Spouse Represent Both?

In many states and courts (but not a majority), spouses are permitted actually to speak for one another. That is a change from the normal rule that only lawyers are allowed to represent others, but perhaps it is simply a nod in the direction of reality. If you are NOT permitted to speak for your spouse, he or she will be required to sign all pleadings applying to his or her case and, on rare occasions, appear personally. The shy spouse will rarely need to speak in court under any circumstances, but it could happen occasionally.

Possibly Different Interests, but Mostly Identical

The legal positions of the spouses may not be identical. The debt collector may have no right to sue a non-signing spouse. You would want to know this right away, and it is just a question of your state’s law (and your legal research). If there is no right against a non-signing spouse, you should consider moving to dismiss the claim on that basis as quickly as possible. Sometimes winning that motion would take all the fun out of the case for the debt collector – they may not be able to collect anything at all, win or lose, in that situation (again depending on your state law). Even if that is not so, getting one of the parties off the hook is potentially of tremendous benefit.

And filing a motion to do so has the added benefit of costing the debt collector money and time, which normally has its own benefits.

If you can’t get the shy spouse dismissed from the case, you will have two defendants with nearly identical defenses. But each will have a right to conduct discovery, which is an advantage. And while both must technically speak for themselves, as a practical matter the court will not want to hear identical arguments – you will not need to speak often. This should not be a reason to give up.

Both Spouses Should Stay Involved

I always suggest that both spouses should definitely pay attention to the proceedings, however. The shy spouse will often have valuable things to say, and in any event may – occasionally, be called upon to speak for him or herself. From a relationship point of view, defending together seems to be healthy as well. This is not a good area for either “you got us into it, now you can get us out,” or “I can take care of this, babe…” The stakes are too high for both spouses not to be intelligently involved.