Many times only one spouse brings a debt load to the marriage, or none of the credit cards held by the couple are in joint names.  The debt of one spouse may be current and manageable, but the other's is out of control.

The question becomes, even though only one may need to file bankruptcy, do they have to do it together?

Must a Couple File a Joint Bankruptcy?

No, not necessarily.  If you are in financial difficulty, but your spouse is not, the bankruptcy code does not require your spouse to file with you simply because you are married. This is an issue I address with all of my clients, and I do try to save the credit score of one spouse if that is possible by not putting a bankruptcy filing on both credit histories.

Also remember that just because spouses have a particular card with both their names on it, that doesn’t make it joint.  What matters is whose name is on the bill when it comes in the mail. Even if both spouses are on a mortgage that is in default, and they want to get current on the payments through a chapter 13 bankruptcy plan, I may only file for one spouse, as the other is protected from the mortgage company by what is called a “co-debtor stay.”

When Should a Married Couple File Bankruptcy Jointly?

In short, I file a joint bankruptcy petition for a married couple when:

  • A significant portion of the credit card debt is joint;
  • The separate credit card debt of the other spouse is also unmanageable; or
  • There is a significant amount of debt for medical services (New Jersey law can hold one spouse responsible for the medical debt of the other, or for their children)

Your situation may be different, so it is best to consult with a lawyer to get the right answer for you.

So What Do I Do?

Whether or not to file bankruptcy together, or have one file and save the credit score of the other, is an important decision that can have long reaching effects. It is best to do it with the assistance of an experienced bankruptcy lawyer.

If you live in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem or Cumberland County, are thinking about bankruptcy, and are ready to take action, call me at 856-432-4113 or contact me through this site schedule an appointment in my Woodbury office to discuss your options, including whether to file jointly.  Just bear in mind that it is not an automatic requirement.

If you are just looking for more information about bankruptcy, then download my free book,Top Questions People Ask About Filing Bankruptcy in New Jersey.

Not sure if bankruptcy is right for you? Take the quiz to the right to find out more!

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Steven J. Richardson
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Bankruptcy, Collections, Student Loan, DUI and Traffic Court attorney in Woodbury, NJ.