I'm not a doctor, but over the years I've had to treat many clients who have had raging STDs. They are always very embarrassed about it; ashamed, even. I'm usually their only confidante. The STD has always come from a former spouse, although it didn't present a problem until after their separation.
If you thought you were going to get a TMI article about people's sex lives, sorry. I'm not referring to sexually transmitted diseases. I'm talking about sexually transmitted debt.
You know, the kind of debt that gets passed between spouses, during a marriage or after a divorce. Financial STDs can affect your health as much as the diseases we learnt about in Sex Ed, so they need to be discussed.
Firstly, if you have an STD, I want you to know you're not alone. In my years of advising people about divorces, I learned that almost every couple has transferred debt to each other. It could be pre-marital debt, or debt that has been attributed to one or both spouses during a marriage. Tax debts, cars loans, mortgages, credit cards, unsecured business loans... whatever the debt is, at one point the couple made the decision to get into it, and it exists in both of their names, or in just one partner's name.
Having a sexually transmitted debt (or disease) is nothing to be ashamed of. STDs can happen to the smartest of us -- including people with legal backgrounds, who should understand the implications of signing documents. But they are very common for a number of reasons, the primary being that people love and trust their partners. And they never expect their relationship to end.
The best way to avoid getting an STD is to not consent to it in the first place. But this is much easier said than done. Many spouses are pressured by their partner, who claims that the loan/extended mortgage/credit card is needed.
But honestly, if things are that desperate, there is usually a healthier (albeit less attractive in the short-term) solution. Try to remember the long-term consequences of debt and don't let yourself be talked into anything you don't feel comfortable with. One test of reasonableness is whether you would advise your child or another loved one to undertake the debt if they were in the same position.
If the debt is unavoidable, ensure that it is not only in your name, so the responsibility is shared. And always, always, ALWAYS, ensure that shared responsibility is documented on the debt itself, rather than just a verbal assurance from your partner. If you are told that your spouse would not be eligible for that debt in their name alone, hence necessitating the debt in your name, then alarm bells should be sounding.
If you only became aware of the extent or existence of your STD after your separation or divorce, you have some options. It is fraud if your spouse or the relevant financial institution placed you in a debt that you did not explicitly consent to.
Even if you did agree to it, but didn't realise the full obligations, help is usually available. Most people's circumstances change significantly after a relationship ends, and you will be surprised to learn that many financial institutions are understanding of your new situation and are willing to work with you to find a solution. In some cases, part of a debt can even be waived as companies are happy to receive, for example, two thirds of a debt within a year, rather than full payment over 20 years. In the extreme, you could even argue through a lawyer that undue pressure was placed on you to sign the relevant documents.
But you can only access these options if you speak up and put your peace of mind above the judgment of others. Chances are, they are in a similar situation, or know someone who has been.
View financial STDs as something that requires treatment, and look after yourself. Because "in sickness or in health" is much more closely related to "for richer or poorer" than we realise.