debt

You can file bankruptcy and exclude spouse

Justin Harelikq_v2.gifDear Bankruptcy Adviser,
My husband works; I stay at home. I have credit cards -- lots of them -- in my name only and have run up $65,000 in debt shopping for stuff my husband knows nothing about. I have been robbing Peter to pay Paul, but money is running out on the minimum payments I've been making. I have no assets. We only have our house (which has no equity), my husband's job and his retirement accounts. Can I file for bankruptcy without involving him or his knowing? He thinks our only debt is our mortgage and our home equity line of credit.
-- Melinda

a_v2.gifDear Melinda,
I have been asked this question numerous times over the years. I personally do not get involved in this type of case, but I am not sure how other attorneys handle this matter. That being said, you have the legal right to file for bankruptcy without your husband's involvement. However, it might be nearly impossible to do it without his knowledge. There are too many documents that will arrive from the court, and over time, your husband will wonder why you are not using credit cards anymore. I think it's inevitable that he would find out.

You will face a few difficulties in trying to file on your own. You will likely need to provide two months' worth of your husband's pay stubs, last year's tax returns, proof of retirement accounts and various other documents that might be in your husband's possession. You may have to continue your deceit and create elaborate stories to avoid having him find out about the pending bankruptcy hearing. Finally, if you stop paying creditors prior to filing, you are likely to receive creditor calls at the house at all times of the day. Your husband could inadvertently pick up one of those calls.

I don't know your specific case, but I personally do not believe your husband is completely innocent. Even if he was not aware of the amount of debt, he should have been suspicious or curious as to the types of items coming into your home. While I think he is still responsible morally and ethically for the debt, I understand he could have made the naive assumption that you were just fantastic at managing the funds coming into the household. I think it is very bizarre that you could have accumulated $65,000 in debt without your husband ever questioning how you were able to buy certain gifts or items.

While many households split duties with one spouse handling all bills, the other spouse cannot simply put his or her head in the sand. In this case, it appears your husband accomplished just that: complete denial of his complicity in accumulating this debt.

Without trying to sound like an amateur psychologist, deceit is not a way to build or maintain a relationship. You might be able to get away with your lies, but having him find out on his own could only make a horrible situation completely unbearable.

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Read more Bankruptcy Adviser columns and more stories about debt management. To ask a question of the Bankruptcy Adviser go to the "Ask the Experts" page, and select "Bankruptcy" as the topic.

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