The Intersection Between Filing for Divorce and Filing for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Filing for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy allows you to discharge unwanted unsecured debt and get a fresh start on your finances. Unsecured debt is any debt that is not backed by an asset, such as credit cards, medical bills, payday or personal loans, judgements, and garnishments. If you and your spouse are struggling with these debts and also considering a divorce, it is important to ask yourselves whether filing for bankruptcy or divorce first would be more advantageous to your situation.

Consider asking yourself these three questions to help determine whether to file for bankruptcy or divorce first:

1. What will save me more money, stress, and time?

Filing bankruptcy jointly before divorce saves money. When you file a Chapter 7 jointly, you only have one case, which allows you to split court and attorney’s fees between you and your spouse, rather than bearing the burden of these costs individually. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy filed with a knowledgeable bankruptcy attorney is typically discharged in approximately 90 days, saving you time and stress from arguing over these debts later during your divorce filing, thus decreasing divorce costs.

If your spouse files bankruptcy during your divorce, then the divorce will be paused until the bankruptcy case closes. Thus, it is a better idea to agree with your spouse to file bankruptcy jointly before divorce. This avoids dragging out the already very stressful and emotional process of a divorce filing.

Plus, several studies show that the number one reason for divorce is financial trouble. It is possible that discharging you and your spouses’ debts through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy may incidentally save your marriage once your financial issues are resolved.

2. Which spouse is responsible for which debts?

Wisconsin is a community property state; therefore, all property acquired during a marriage is subject to equitable distribution after divorce. This means that all debt incurred during the marriage, regardless of which spouse incurred the debt, is to be paid back 50/50. This can lead to collection efforts, lawsuits, and a hindered credit score.

Divorcing spouses can agree to divide these debts between themselves, but the stress of negotiating these debts can be relieved by filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy before divorce, as it eliminates determining who pays for what debts during the divorce.

In making the decision of whether to file bankruptcy or divorce first, there are some cautions to be aware of. The first issue is the potential of having an uncooperative spouse who does not want to file jointly. If this is the case, then you should file alone. However, within the divorce proceeding, be careful not to agree to any conditions of the divorce requiring you to pay part of any joint debt. A completed Chapter 7 bankruptcy will free you of those financial obligations.

A second caution to be aware of is how marital debt is treated in bankruptcy. The payment of marital debt, or in other words, any debt you agreed to pay your spouse during divorce, may not be discharged or eliminated in bankruptcy.

3. Is filing for bankruptcy before divorce going to increase my exemption amounts?

A Chapter 7 bankruptcy exemption allows you to protect the equity in your property from creditors. For instance, the Wisconsin Chapter 7 exemption allows you to protect up to $75,000.00 in equity in your home, meaning that creditors cannot take your property if the equity in your home is less than $75,000.00.

Filing jointly may increase your exemption amounts because the State of Wisconsin allows you to double your exemption amounts, essentially allowing you to protect more property from creditors.

Reasons to use a lawyer in filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy:

1. A lawyer can help you qualify for Chapter 7 when you may have thought you did not qualify

2. An improper filing can result in lost assets or a dismissed case, wasting your time and money

3. An experienced attorney can help fill out the complex forms and paperwork

4. An attorney can be a buffer between contentious spouses, thus easing communication

Schedule a Free Bankruptcy & Debt Consultation with Wynn at Law, LLC

If you are considering bankruptcy and have questions, don’t hesitate to contact our bankruptcy attorney, Shannon Wynn. Wynn at Law, LLC offers free, in-depth bankruptcy consultations. Our bankruptcy attorneys are here to listen, advise, and help during your financial difficulties so you can move forward with your life.

You can reach our bankruptcy attorney by phone at 262-725-0175 or our website’s contact page. Wynn at Law, LLC has bankruptcy law offices conveniently located in Salem, Delavan, and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

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