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Spouse Don't Have to be Left in Dark
Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins

Question: Throughout our married life, my husband has kept everything from me that pertains to finances. He pays our bills at his office. I have never seen a tax return except to sign it at 11 p.m. the day before the filing date. The only time he approaches me about financial matters is to ask me to sign a note or credit application. When I found out that he has been cheating on me, I made an appointment with a lawyer who told me I needed to get our financial records. I can't go to our CPA to get the tax records because he will surely tell my husband, and I can't get into my husband’s office to try to get them myself. How can I get the records together without tipping off my husband?

Answer: You can go either your local Internal Revenue Service office or to on the Internet, get Form 4506 (Request for Copy or Transcript of Tax Form), fill it out, and send it to the IRS with a $23 check for each tax year that you order.

By completing line 4 of this form, you can even have your tax returns mailed to the address of a third person -- say, your lawyer. If you are a shareholder in your husband's corporation or a partner in his business, you can even order these returns. It usually takes 60 days for a response, but generally speaking, you will only be able to secure returns for up to six years.

Then by going to or calling Equifax at 1-888-202-4025, you can order your credit report. In this way, you can find out if you are jointly responsible for obligations with your spouse. The cost of these reports ranges from free to $9, depending on where you live. These are just two of the ways in which you can begin to prepare your case.

Question: I have never worked outside the home, and the only property I own is a half-interest in our home. I have no credit in my name -- not even a credit card. I am totally dependent on my husband unless he needs a bank loan for his business in which I own no stock. He takes me to the bank to sign the note because he says that there will be no loan without my guarantee. After I filed for divorce, my husband defaulted on a loan, and the bank has sued me. Is there anything I can do?

Answer: Aside from a possible contempt citation against your husband, there is a federal law -- the Equal Credit Opportunity Act – that has been on the books for more than 20 years. The law was originally intended to help married women who, more times than not, couldn’t get credit without asking their husbands to sign for them.

According to this law, neither a bank nor any other creditor can require an applicant's spouse to sign any loan instrument if (i) the spouse does not own an interest in the business, (ii) the applicant (here, your husband) is creditworthy, and (iii) the spouse's credit standing is not considered. Experts say this is one of the most violated consumer credit laws. If the facts are anything like you relay them, you may not only have a good defense, but you might also have a suit against the bank for actual damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees. And if your husband and the bank are in cahoots, a whole new kettle of fish may be there to be stewed.

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Suggested Reading:
Separation and Divorce Guidebook
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FS-Be Wary of Credit Issues with Ex
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FS-Becareful of Bargaining Away Alimony As Child Support
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FS-Lawyer Tells Me to Lie & Pension Double Dipped
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FS-On and Off Again Reconciles Can Create Agreement Disasters
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FS-The Dangers of Family Loans
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FS-Transference of Affection & 10 Tips of Divorce
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