Last week, the US Bankruptcy Court in the Western District of Kentucky ruled that a Chapter 7 debtor’s credit card debt was not dischargeable because the debtor used a card that should have been closed. The debtor and the plaintiff divorced in 2003 and as a part of the divorce, the parties agreed to pay their own credit card debt as well as hold each other harmless in the event of default.
The husband and wife had a joint Fleet Visa which was to be paid by the husband. He paid it in April of 2003. The debtor/wife remarried in December of that year and she changed her name. That marriage only lasted a year, but the wife again married and again changed her name.
In 2004, Fleet was bought by Bank of America and issued a new credit card on what was formerly the Fleet Visa account. The debtor used the card, and when the bills arrived, the bills were addressed to her former ex-husband and the debtor using the name she had while married to him. She never notified the bank she was divorced or that her ex-husband’s name should not be on the card.
In 2006, after some business problems and an illness, the debtor filed bankruptcy. The husband sued claiming that the debt was not dischargeable on the basis of fraud. He argued that the debtor knew that she was using a card that was in both their names.
Debtor claimed that she did not know that the husband’s name was still on the account – and that because she had so many other bills at the time, she had no idea it was a joint account. However, this explanation did not make sense since the husband’s name was on the card, and on the bill, and the bills were in a name she used two marriages ago. She also had to reactivate the account, and thus had to have known at that time it was a joint account – as well as in her former name. Even “[i]t was not done knowingly,” the court wrote, “it certainly was done with gross recklessness.”
Because debtor did not take some very simple steps to change the holder of the account, the debt is non-dischargeable, and because of the hold-harmless language of the settlement agreement, she must pay it. Based on these facts, shouldn’t the debtor have known better?
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