Q: My husband is making regular payments on his ex-wife’s second mortgage. The deal in their divorce agreement was that he would pay the monthly mortgage payments until the loan balance fell to $7,500. At that point, his ex-wife was supposed to take over.

We’re at that point now, and our lawyer sent her a note stating that we are ready for her to take over the payments. We’ve received no response. The problem is we need to refinance our home and need this debt out of his name.

The home on which the second mortgage was taken out is hers and in her name only. Although they were married for 13 years, the house was hers before they got together. But the second mortgage was taken out in his name.

We do not ever talk to his ex-wife so we do not know if she has the means to take over the second mortgage. How do we get her to be liable for her share and get this loan out of my husband’s name?

Our lawyer has not been much help in this process.

A: I’m confused about how your husband was able to take out a loan without having his name on the title. Was his name on the title to the property at one point in time? You can’t take out a home equity loan or mortgage without ownership on the title to the property.

Is it possible that the mortgage in question really isn’t in his name? Have you checked his credit history to see whether the loan is actually on the credit history?

For discussion sake, let’s assume that for some reason, your husband’s name is on the mortgage to his ex-wife’s property but his name is no longer on the title.

Let me clue you into the unfortunate reality of your situation: Although a divorce judge has decreed that your husband is only responsible for a certain level of the debt, the lender doesn’t care. As long as your husband’s name is on the mortgage, the lender will pursue him until the debt is paid off.

(You see this frequently with divorcing spouses and credit card debt. As long as the debt is in your name, you are responsible, no matter what a judge says.)

Right now, the only way to get this debt off your husband’s credit report is for him either to pay off the debt, or have his ex-wife to refinance the debt into her name. Your husband will have to figure out a way to contact his ex-wife and ask her if she is able to do this.

If she is not, then your husband is on the hook for the $7,500. If he chooses not to pay it, his credit history will note that fact and his credit score will be destroyed — and you and he will have trouble qualifying for any loan for the next few years.

I urge you and your husband to contact his ex-spouse and see if an agreement can be worked out peacefully. Although you can go back to court to try to enforce the judge’s orders, you might well spend more money than it would cost to simply pay off this debt, and be done with it.

May 28, 2004.