Am I responsible for my spouse’s debts?

Am I responsible for my spouse’s debts?

In Virginia, a spouse is not ordinarily liable for his or her spouse’s individual debts (or tort liabilities) simply by virtue of the marriage.  However, Virginia has codified the common-law doctrine of necessaries, which made a husband liable for his wife’s necessary living expenses such as shelter, food and medical care.  Under Virginia law, the doctrine of necessaries now applies equally to husband and wife, except when the spouses are permanently living separate and apart.  The doctrine of necessaries may make a spouse liable to a third party who supplies necessary goods or services, but not to his or her spouse in need.  A lien for necessaries will not attach to property held by the spouses as tenants by the entirety with the common-law right of survivorship.

Will a bankruptcy filing stop my divorce proceeding?

Will a bankruptcy filing stop my divorce proceeding?

One of the benefits of filing bankruptcy is the automatic stay that generally prevents creditors from proceeding against the debtor, the debtor’s property, or property of the estate to collect a pre-filing debt.  This protection allows for the orderly administration of the debtor’s case.  In family law matters, bankruptcy law balances the rights between spouses as debtor and creditor, and all of the creditors of the debtor spouse.  There are numerous family law exceptions to the automatic stay.  A bankruptcy may not stop an action to do any of the following:

  • Establish paternity
  • Establish domestic support obligations
  • Determine or modify child custody or visitation
  • Obtain a divorce without equitable distribution or division of property and debts
  • Address family abuse
  • Collect support from property that is not property of the estate or report overdue support
  • Withhold income for payment of a domestic support obligation

The bankruptcy court is concerned about the property subject to the claims of creditors and the possibility of collusion, that is, that a husband and wife may act together under the pretext of a divorce to defeat their creditors.

If property is involved, the safest way to address these concerns is to seek relief from the automatic stay in order to continue the divorce proceeding in spite of the bankruptcy filing.  You should consult with your bankruptcy or divorce attorney about the automatic stay and its effect on your divorce.

The Interplay Between Bankruptcy and Divorce Law in Virginia

Not only do love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, unfortunately so do divorce and bankruptcy.  Marriage is viewed as a partnership in Virginia, with husband and wife each contributing, in good faith, their best efforts toward the common good of the relationship.  Married couples often stretch their finances, sacrificing short-term security for long-term prosperity, in expectation of the stability of their union.  Few newlyweds expect to divorce, and even fewer expect to ever file bankruptcy due to the dissolution of their marriage.

Despite these expectations, divorce is a fact of life.  Nearly half of all marriages do not survive. Most people do not execute prenuptial agreements.  Separation and divorce can bring tremendous, devastating financial stress for both husband and wife.  The unanticipated costs of maintaining two households instead of one, the burden and uncertainty of support obligations, and the demands of paying attorney’s fees and costs in a contested divorce case can easily bring financial distress leading to insolvency or bankruptcy.

Similarly, financial distress can lead to marital discord.  Even a happy marriage can be pulled apart by the blame, guilt, uncertainty and anxiety resulting from a bankruptcy proceeding.  If one spouse alone obtains a discharge, the other spouse may be left responsible for a joint debt.  Bankruptcy tests a marriage, and, unfortunately, many marriages cannot survive that test.

The federal bankruptcy courts in Virginia and the Virginia Circuit Courts have some shared powers over separation and divorce.  This blawg explores the curious intersection between federal bankruptcy law and Virginia family law with an eye toward providing general information to the unfortunate participants caught in that intersection.

This blawg is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied on for particular legal advice.  Both bankruptcy law and family law are fact specific.  Legal outcomes may vary depending upon all the particular facts.  In addition, family law is primarily state law, which varies from state to state; this blawg addresses only family matters in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and not in any other states. A lawyer can only provide you with accurate legal advice after learning all the facts and circumstances of your particular situation.  You should consult with an attorney concerning any legal matter discussed in this blawg before taking any action, or not acting, in reliance on the information contained herein.

James H. Wilson, Jr. is a debt relief agency.  James H. Wilson, Jr., helps people file for bankruptcy relief under the bankruptcy code.

Richmond Divorce Lawyer James H. Wilson, Jr.

James H. Wilson, Jr.

Attorney & Counsellor at Law

4860 Cox Road, Suite 200

Glen Allen, Virginia 23060