If I file for bankruptcy, will my wife find out?

Many clients come into my office with a version of the same worrisome thought on thier minds: “If I file for bankruptcy, will my wife (or husband) find out about it?”

The answer depends on the client realizing that there are really several things going on here.

First, married couples are not required to file for bankruptcy together. They can do it that way, and many do, but it is not required.

Second, if you hire a bankruptcy attorney, or even just have an initial consultation with one, the attorney is bound by the ethical rules of the attorney – client privilege. I won’t tell your spouse about your proposed case, unless you change your mind and inform me that you want them to know after all.

Third, if you do go ahead and file a bankruptcy petition as an individual- but-married person, like any other case, it will be a public record. Anyone, including your spouse, can have access to the case file by going to the courthouse. Filings are also available online, but that requires setting up an account with the government and paying (with a credit card) a fee of $0.08 per page that is downloaded. The bottom line is that people determined to read your case file will probably do so, but a casual snoop might be deterred by the fee process.

Next come the practical implications. If your spouse has worked at a paying job in the past six months, and you are still maintaining a common household together, you are going to have to provide your attorney with her pay stubs so that the “means test” paperwork can be completed properly. Obviously, this may require asking for them.

Another practical consideration is that once your case is filed, the bankruptcy court is going to start sending mail to your house, in an envelope with a return address marked “Bankruptcy Court.” You will get at least two such letters, one at the start of the case (to tell you where and when your meeting of creditors will be held) and one at the end (with your discharge enclosed). If motions are filed in your case, the court may mail additional notices to your house.

With all these hurdles to get over, you might just want to break the news to your spouse ahead of time, but there is certainly no rule that forces you to.


By Doug Beaton

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