When meeting with potential clients, I am often asked if that person has to tell their spouse they are filing bankruptcy. The answer can be complicated. Generally, it is not wise to keep a secret from your spouse especially about something as important as finances. Rarely have I found that spouses maintain completely separate finances. Bankruptcy law requires that any co-debtors be notified of the bankruptcy and the bankruptcy can appear on the credit report of anyone liable on the account. So, if there are any joint debts at all, the non-filing spouse will find out. Also, when you file a bankruptcy, numerous notices are mailed to you. Therefore, your spouse may discover those notices from the bankruptcy court if he or she checks the mail. Lastly, bankruptcy filings sometimes can be published in the newspaper, so your spouse may find out from family or friends who read the newspaper.
In most cases, an individual cannot be forced into filing a bankruptcy. There is a small and unusual exception when creditors force someone into an involuntary bankruptcy. Again, an involuntary bankruptcy is rare. What I try to convey to clients is that they cannot make their spouse file, but I will advise them whether I think they both need to file or not.
There may be a reason that one spouse can file and the other cannot; for example if one spouse had a prior filing and could not yet file again. If there are no joint debts and the debt is only in one name, both people may not need to file. Even if one spouse files a bankruptcy and one does not, the bankruptcy law requires that household income and household expenses be listed in the schedules. Therefore, the non-filing spouse would need to provide to the filing spouse payroll information like paystubs and monthly living expenses. The bottom line is that you cannot force your spouse to file bankruptcy with you, but the chances of the spouse not finding out are slim.
We are here to help, counsel, and advise you. If you are afraid to tell a spouse about your financial problems, you can have a free consultation with one of our offices to get advice on whether you both should file or not.
Heather Ellis Banks is an Associate Attorney at the Bond & Botes Law Offices in Knoxville, Tennessee. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Tennessee Knoxville, and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Memphis, Cecil.C. Humphreys School of Law. She has been helping consumers to navigate through the bankruptcy process since 2005. Read her full bio here.