Things to Avoid Before Bankruptcy: Item 5 – Getting Married

By David J. Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Attorney

Eligibility for bankruptcy is based primarily on household income. How that is calculated might surprise you.

If you are contemplating bankruptcy and marriage, in most situations it would be best to do the bankruptcy first. Get things cleaned up before you start your new life. If you wait until after you are married, almost all your spouse’s income will be added to yours for purposes of determining eligibility for bankruptcy.  This will happen even if your spouse does not file bankruptcy jointly with you.

If you file your bankruptcy while you are still single, however, the only income that will count is yours. For bankruptcy purposes what is thought of as your income might be more than you would expect. Included in your income will be any contributions to your living expenses you regularly receive from others.

What others you might ask? Well, a good example would be a roommate or roommates with whom you share expenses. If your roommate is paying half the rent where you live, that half of the rent will be or will probably be considered additional income of yours. But then you get to claim a larger household size and the expenses of a larger household, which means it tends to all balance out. You will not have all your roommate’s income added to yours, but only your roommate’s contribution to your living expenses.

Contributions to your living expenses can come from all sorts of different sources: your adult children, your parent, your significant other, or some friend or relative. If the person making the contribution lives with you, as I mentioned above, you could typically include that person in your household size.

BUT if you have a spouse in your home, almost all that person’s income will be treated as yours – even if you file your bankruptcy individually. In many cases this can put a serious damper on your eligibility.

Every case is different and there are certainly exceptions to what I am saying here. If both you and your partner are in need of a bankruptcy, there is a possibility that you would be better off getting married and then doing one joint bankruptcy instead of two individual bankruptcy cases while you are single. This can be very tricky. If you and your partner both need to file bankruptcy, before getting married have your lawyer run the numbers both ways and follow the advice you receive.  

One more word. Getting married or getting divorced solely for the purpose of getting a better deal from the bankruptcy court could be considered bankruptcy fraud, and that could be a felony. Don’t even think about it. The bankruptcy statute contains a good faith requirement. Don’t be getting married or divorced unless that is something that you needed to do for non-bankruptcy purposes.

I am a debt relief agency. I help people file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code. This is for general information purposes only and is not legal advice. It does not create an attorney-client relationship. Seek the advice of the attorney of your choice concerning the details of your case. I practice in Minnesota. Rules, laws and practices may be different in your state.

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