This unrelenting economic downturn has been tough on all Americans—whether they be single, dating, engaged, married or widowed. But, as anyone who has ever been married already knows: money (or lack thereof) can be the main cause of many couple’s marital strife. As a result, in this especially difficult economic climate—full of job insecurity, foreclosures, and slow economic gains—many have been pushed to the brink of bankruptcy, and, along with them, the people who love and wanted to marry them.
So what should you do if you are preparing to marry someone drowning in debt?
While as a general rule, you are not liable for your spouse’s debt, in some cases the debt follows the “I Do’s” and you may end up paying that debt anyway. For example, consider your new spouse (or future spouse) has $70,000 in credit card debts and other unsecured, consumer debts. He/she has an income of $35,000, below average median income levels. Based on his/her income alone, he/she could easily solve his or her insolvency issues with the benefits of a personal bankruptcy through Chapter 7. By comparison, your income is nearly $80,000 and you have no unsecured debts. This second, higher income could “mean” bad news under bankruptcy’s “Means Test.”
Bankruptcy’s “Means Test” is a formula for determining a debtor’s ability to pay back their debts. An inability to pass this test disqualifies someone from Chapter 7 bankruptcy, making Chapter 13 (or 11 for those with extremely high amounts of income and/or debt) the debtor's only option. Because income for purposes of the “Means Test” includes "family income," a new spouse’s income must be considered in determining the debtor-spouse’s “Means Test,” even when the new spouse has no stake in, or need to file for, bankruptcy.
In the above example, the new spouse’s relative affluence can make the debtor-spouse ineligible for the benefits of Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Without the option of a liquidation bankruptcy under Chapter 7, as mentioned, the debtor’s only option is now Chapter 13—a peition requiring a three to five year repayment plan. As a result, the new spouse “marries into” his or her debtor-spouse’s debt, and the higher salary is forced to subsidize repayment of that debt when the Chapter 7 bankruptcy cannot.
Because of this consideration, couples considering marriage, and bankruptcy, should consult with a qualified bankruptcy attorney when determining the timing of either decision. In some cases, filing for Chapter 7 prior to marriage (or prior to a couple cohabitating in one household), can mean a better result for the debtor under the “Means Test.” In other cases, marriage can increase a household size, thereby qualifying the household for Chapter 7. Other considerations include the fact that marriage can act to bind personal property, real property and other financial assets, making them exempt from the bankruptcy process. In short, a little planning before the nuptials, and your bankruptcy, can pay dividends for the beginning of a lifetime together on the road to financial freedom.
If you are considering filing for bankruptcy to strengthen your union, as well as your finances, knowing a qualified bankruptcy attorney can also help you make the right spending decisions, yielding the right kinds of support, information and insights—at a low cost— for a fiscally viable and secure portfolio. The bankruptcy experts at the Law Offices of John T. Orcutt offer a totally FREE debt consultation and now, more than ever, it’s time to take them up on their offer. Just call toll free to 1-888-234-4181, or during the off hours, you can make your own appointment right online at www.billsbills.com. Simply click on the yellow “FREE Consultation Now” button.