Bankruptcy Attorneys Explain How to Handle Joint Debts and Spousal Responsibilities

Bankruptcy Attorneys Explain How to Handle Joint Debts and Spousal Responsibilities

Joint Bankruptcy vs. Individual Filings:

For married couples facing overwhelming debt, a joint Chapter 7 bankruptcy can be an attractive option. It allows for the discharge of most unsecured debts, like credit cards and medical bills. However, there are downsides.  First, both spouses’ assets become part of the bankruptcy estate, which could be liquidated to pay creditors if they exceed exemption limits. Second, both spouses’ credit scores will take a hit. An alternative is individual filings, where each spouse files separately. This protects each other’s assets and credit scores, but it does not eliminate the responsibility for joint debts. The non-filing spouse will still be liable for those debts, and creditors can pursue them for collection.

Impact of Divorce on Bankruptcy:

The timing of bankruptcy and divorce significantly impacts the process.  Filing for bankruptcy before finalizing a divorce can simplify debt division. The bankruptcy court can discharge joint debts, leaving a clearer picture for the divorce decree to assign remaining obligations to each spouse. However, the non-filing spouse may still be held responsible by creditors if the filing spouse defaults on their portion of the debt after the divorce. Conversely, filing for bankruptcy after a divorce can be more complex. The divorce decree should already assign responsibility for debts, but a bankruptcy filing by one spouse cannot alter those pre-existing agreements with creditors.

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Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13:

The type of bankruptcy filing also plays a role. Chapter 7, the liquidation option, discharges most unsecured debts. However, it does not address secured debts, like car loans or mortgages, or child support and alimony obligations. These debts remain your responsibility. Chapter 13, the reorganization plan, allows you to create a payment plan to repay all or a portion of your debts over 3-5 years. This option can be beneficial if you want to keep secured assets like your car or house. However, including joint debts in a Chapter 13 plan makes the filing spouse responsible for ensuring those debts are paid according to the plan. While the non-filing spouse may be protected from collection actions during the plan, they could still be held liable if the filing spouse defaults.

Spousal Indemnification:

If you are considering individual bankruptcy or bankruptcy before finalizing a divorce, consulting an attorney about including an indemnification clause in the divorce decree is crucial. This clause essentially states that the responsible spouse will hold the other harmless for any issues arising from unpaid joint debts.  While this does not eliminate the debt with creditors, it protects the non-filing spouse from future collection actions by the other spouse if they default on their portion of the debt.

Seeking Professional Guidance:

Bankruptcy and divorce are both intricate legal processes.  The interplay between them regarding joint debts and spousal responsibilities can be even more challenging and Contact Freedom Law. Consulting with a qualified bankruptcy attorney experienced in handling these situations is vital. They can help you understand your options, navigate the legalities, and develop a strategy that protects your financial future, both individually and as a couple if applicable. Remember, a well-informed approach can make a significant difference in your journey towards financial recovery.

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