Q: My ex husband and I purchased a timeshare many years ago. When we divorced, the timeshare was forgotten about and was therefore never addressed in our divorce mediation.

We used our timeshare one time. I thought that he was keeping up with the payments but apparently not.

I received a summons today that a lawsuit is being filed against us and that we owe an amount close to $5,000. I cannot afford a lawyer. I did try to contact the timeshare’s lawyer when we were first contacted, but did not get any response. I just want to know what can happen in my situation. Thank you so much.

A: It’s unfortunate that neither you nor your husband remembered the timeshare in your divorce settlement, and that you never checked to see if the annual payments were being made.

Now, you’ve got a much bigger problem. You do owe this money and because the timeshare company has filed suit against you, it will start to affect your credit history and credit score — if it hasn’t already. (You can check your credit history for free at AnnualCreditReport.com, and purchase your credit score there for around $6.95.)

You must answer the lawsuit, and you must contact your ex-husband to work out how you are going to pay off this debt. You must also figure out how you and he will sell (or if you can’t sell, then somehow unload) this timeshare.

The summons should tell you when you need to show up at court. If it doesn’t, you can call or stop by the courthouse and look up when you need to be there. If you can’t afford an attorney, you might want to consult with one for an hour or so, simply to learn what you’ll have to do to defend yourself.

Or, if you truly don’t have a dime, you may want to contact your local legal aid society.

So many people have written to me about timeshares over the years. Caught off-guard while seeking a free lunch, they sign papers thinking they’ll use the timeshare for years to come. While some vacationers do like going back to the same place year after year (or can trade their timeshare for one in other places), many people regret their moment of financial indiscretion for the next 10 years.

The best advice I can give anyone about timeshares is this: If you’re invited for a “free” lunch, leave your wallet, checkbook, and credit cards in the hotel room safe — and don’t sign anything.

Published: Jul 16, 2006