Why Divorce and Bankruptcy Often Go Hand In Hand

Divorce is expensive, and splitting up assets often puts both spouses in a poor financial position.

by Celeste Marchand

Money is the number one stress factor in many relationships. Sometimes a couple that has money problems will think that the answer to their problems is divorce. Each spouse is likely to believe that the other is mostly responsible for the couple's money problems. This belief may or may not be true. One thing is true, you can divorce your spouse, but you can't divorce the debts incurred during your marriage.

That's right: both spouses are responsible for the debts incurred during the time of the marriage. Sure, your divorce settlement will divide up the debts, assigning responsibility for some to one spouse and some to the other. But that divorce settlement is between you and your ex-spouse; it doesn't bind the creditor, who can collect the debt from either one of you. This means if your ex-spouse doesn't pay his or her share of the debts, the creditor can come after you for payment. If your ex files for bankruptcy after the divorce, the creditors will look to you to satisfy those debts. If you were barely making ends meet before that happens, your spouse's bankruptcy could send you into bankruptcy as well.

For those reasons, it may make more sense for you and your spouse to file for bankruptcy before getting divorced. At least that way you will know where you really stand when it is time to divide the property. You and your spouse need to be able to work together on a certain level to accomplish this. If your relationship has deteriorated to the point where you can't communicate with each other, this option may not be for you.

The prospect of having bill collectors coming after you for the debts your ex was supposed to pay can be unsettling. If you are concerned that your ex will file for bankruptcy, you should bring this up with you attorney so you can discuss ways to protect yourself. Your attorney may suggest that you obtain a lien on some of your ex's property to help make sure that you don't get stuck paying his or her share of the debts.

Bankruptcy is not a way to avoid court ordered alimony or child support payments. These aren't dischargeable in a bankruptcy proceeding, so your ex will still be liable for these payments even if he or she does file for bankruptcy.

See Bankruptcy and Divorce: Which Comes First?

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