If you’re like most people, your divorce was one of the most frustrating experiences of your life. Even under the best of circumstances, where you and your spouse both agreed to the divorce and the majority of decisions concerning the end of your marriage, the process can still be daunting. The completion of a divorce can make you feel like celebrating, but what if you learn you are still responsible for things your spouse did – like accumulate financial debt?
Just because your marriage is over doesn’t mean your spouse’s creditors – and the law – aren’t going to hold you responsible for things he or she did while you were married.
What should you do when divorcing or after you’re divorced to protect your self?
Here’s what you need to know:
If responsibility for your spouse’s debts is part of your divorce settlement, this means you must pay these debts. However, if your court determines your spouse is responsible for your debts and he or she does not pay them, you can be sued by the creditors.
The bottom line is creditors will do whatever they can legally do to get the money owed to them. Just because you have a divorce agreement does not mean you will not be responsible for a debt. Decisions made in family law apply only to the family, not to creditors, so telling a bill collector your divorce agreement released you from responsibility isn’t going to get you very far.
Role of Family Court
Should your ex-spouse fail to honor his or her obligations that were determined in family court to pay a debt, your initial recourse would be to pursue payment through the family court system. This is the option most people would choose, assuming their finances are otherwise in good standing.
Hopefully, you won’t be driven to bankruptcy due to a debt incurred by a former spouse alone.
For a deeper look into whether you should consider bankruptcy, check out this article from US News & World Report.
How Bankruptcy Could Help
The only other way to deal with a debt shared in some way by you and your former spouse when you want to eliminate the debt is by filing for bankruptcy.
Either spouse can file, but the type of bankruptcy that will accomplish a discharge varies from case to case. Chapter 7 deals with spousal debt and family court settlements a bit differently than it would with debts originally incurred by the person actually filing for bankruptcy, so it’s important not to make any assumptions about your debts.
A bankruptcy attorney can help you determine whether Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy will be your best option. Just be sure to explain the origin of the debt to your attorney, so he or she can use the appropriate method to eliminate the debt, if possible.
If you have questions about how bankruptcy and divorce interact or you are considering bankruptcy in the midst of a divorce, we can help. For more information or to schedule a consultation to discuss your situation, contact the Law Offices of Robert M. Geller at 813.254.5696 to schedule a free consultation.