Should Spouses File Jointly Or Separately? Skip to main content

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Should Spouses File Jointly Or Separately?


Many of us now come into marriage with some debts in tow. Some of us also arrive owning some of our own property. Once married, we incur new debts, jointly or separately; for example, one spouse may finance a car under his name, while both spouses may need to list their income together when they borrow for a new home. In addition, you may have credit cards and checking accounts in your own name, and some held jointly.  Sometimes one spouse will have the legal responsibility for credit card debt, but the other spouse, as an authorized user of the account, has the ability to add to it. A spouse may not have the responsibility for a debt, but may contribute to payment from her income. And then there are the difference in state law, which also adds layers: in the nine community property states, both partners own all property equally, while in the non-community property states (or "equitable distribution" states, such as North Carolina), each spouse owns all of his own property and one half of the property held jointly.

As you can see, marriage can definitely complicate matters when it comes to property and debt! For many couples facing an unmanageable amount of debt together, these different factors may complicate the decision to file for bankruptcy However, there's no need for alarm. If your marriage is suffering from the pressures of debt, bankruptcy can offer the relief to allow your family to focus on the things that really matter. An experienced bankruptcy attorney will be able to assess your situation and advice you on the best strategy for taking care of your debts while saving your property. Based on the kinds of debt and property your couple has, he will be able to help you choose whether to file separately or jointly. And in some situations, he may advise one partner to file and the other partner not to. Let's look at some of the factors he'll weigh in making his determination:

If you file together, all of your separately held debts, as well as all of the jointly held debts acquired during the marriage will be discharged. Filing together is also cheaper than filing two separate bankruptcies, and often times the financial troubles of one spouse are tied to those of the other. If only one spouse files, jointly held debts will be discharged only for the spouse who files; the other spouse will still be responsible for the debt.

However, if one spouse holds most of the troublesome debt in her own name, it may make sense for her to file alone. This is especially true if the non-filing spouse has better credit. Preserving one party's credit can help the filing spouse recover from bankruptcy faster. The non-filing spouse can co-sign on future accounts, allowing the filing spouse a better chance to rebuild post-bankruptcy.

Don't let these nuances deter you from the most important point: no matter what kind of debt you have and what kind of property you hold, bankruptcy can offer a life-changing opportunity for you and your spouse to put unmanageable debt behind you. Because you want to approach your filing strategically, it's an excellent idea to contact an experienced bankruptcy attorney to help you and your spouse make the right choice.

In North Carolina, contact the Law Offices of John T. Orcutt at +1-919-646-2654, or visit to complete our free and confidential debt questionnaire.

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