Do You Have To Pay Marital Debts If Ex Spouse Files Bankruptcy?

I often get contacted by (ex) spouses who tell me “my ex-spouse was ordered by the court to pay my credit card (and other)debts, but they just filed bankruptcy and stopped paying.  Now the credit card companies are coming after me!  I contacted the credit card companies and told them that the family law court ordered my ex-spouse to pay them…”

This is not the credit card companies’ problem.

You Are Responsible For Marital Debts If Your Spouse Does Not Pay Regardless Of Any Divorce Court Orders

Many times in divorce proceedings a family law/divorce court will order one spouse to pay the debts of the other spouse, either as part of the domestic support obligation or as an “equalization” of the marital assets/debts.

What many fail to understand, however, is that such a court order only affects the two parties to the divorce.

It does not, and cannot, affect third parties such as credit card companies.

If you had a legal obligation to pay on the credit cards or any other debts before your divorce (whether because they are in your name or by virtue of Community Property laws), then you still have a legal obligation after.   The family law court created an obligation between you and your ex-spouse only (in the form of paying your credit card debts).

If your ex-spouse fails to honor that obligation to you, such as by filing a bankruptcy case, your remedy if any is against the ex-spouse, NOT against the credit card companies or others you owe money to.

Discharge of Marital Obligations In Bankruptcy

If your spouse filed a Chapter 7 case, then they cannot discharge any obligation owed to you (the other spouse).  This includes an order to pay credit card debts as well as actual support (alimony, child support).

However, if they filed a Chapter 13 case, the marital equalization obligation, which includes taking over marital debts and other things, can be discharged.

If your ex spouse does eliminate a debt to you in the bankruptcy, there may be a basis to adjust future support payments by going back to the family law court and seeking a modification.

Whether or not you can seek any remedy against your ex-spouse under these circumstances depends on exactly what the nature of the family law court order was (i.e. whether for support, or simply an equalization obligation).

If it was for support, then you can go right back into family law court and seek a remedy there (most likely it will be to have the ex-spouse pay additional support to you, which is not dischargeable in their bankruptcy case).

If it was merely an equalization payment and your ex filed a Chapter 13 case, then you may be out of luck, but should file a proof of claim in his case to share in the distribution (in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding you can go back to the family law court as previously mentioned).

You Need To Deal With Marital Debts Owed

Regardless of the remedies listed above, if your ex stops paying on debts for which you are also liable, you will need to deal directly with those creditors.   You need to either to negotiate repayment  terms or perhaps file a bankruptcy yourself.  If you find yourself in this position, it is a good time to have a consultation with a bankruptcy attorney in your area.