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.