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Why Do I Have to Pay My Ex's Debt?

Ms. Vicki

Dear Ms. Vicki,

While stationed in Europe, my soon-to-be ex-husband tried to kill me in front of my children. The children and I have been stateside for nearly two years.

My concern is that, during our marriage, I was a stay-at-home wife/mom and didn't work. So all of our financial credit was obtained using his Social Security number. My name and Social Security information were used only as a secondary source to identify me.

Now, the Military Star Card is garnishing my tax refund to recover that debt. They are not going after my husband, who has a retirement check from the military, a full-time job, and no obligation/responsibility to the kids.

I am working for the first time in 12 years. My job basically puts me and our children at poverty level. I receive child support and spouse support and STILL receive food stamps. How can they do this to me?

I am living hand to mouth, facing eviction if I can't make rent. I have medical bills he is not paying because we have only Tricare standard. With all these bills, I'm sinking.


Dear Sinking,

Oh my goodness! I am so sorry to hear about this, but I am so glad that you are still alive and that you and your children are safe. This is really heartbreaking for me to hear. After all you have been through, you must feel this further financial difficulty is a slap in the face.

It does not sound as if your divorce is final yet. Other people in your situation report that it is very important to get everything arranged in a divorce decree. Many times, spouses can be in a big hurry to finalize the divorce and don't give careful consideration to everything, such as who will be responsible for certain debt.

I think the Exchange Credit Program (STAR) can garnish your wages for two reasons: 1) This sounds like it was a joint account, and 2) The divorce has not been finalized. Therefore, the debt still belongs to both of you.

Again, I know this doesn't sound fair because you are making ends meet minimally and providing for you and your children too. Now your taxes have been garnished.

People use their tax refund and earned income credit to help pay for child care, transportation, housing, food etc.

I know this is stressful, but you have to receive legal advice.

Please don't walk into court and just sign papers. You could be responsible for a lot more if you do.

Ms. Vicki

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Ms. Vicki, a native of Dallas, has been the ‘Dear Abby’ for the military community since her column began in 2005. A licensed therapist and licensed clinical social worker, Ms. Vicki holds a Master of Science in social work and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her column has appeared in the Washington (D.C.) Times and in the Heidelberg (Germany) Post Herald. She has been featured on CNN, CBS, ABC and NBC.

Ms. Vicki has retired from writing new columns for Although Ms. Vicki is no longer offering new advice on, you can still email military benefits questions to our Questions and Benefits team. Need military spouse career help? Email our Dear Career writers.