No Separate Lives In Marriage

Laura and her husband have wildly different views on money. They have no joint debts or assets. Laura is worried his creditors will come after her, and if he files bankruptcy, how will that affect her?

QUESTION: Laura in Nebraska is calling because she and her husband have wildly different views on money. They have no joint debts or assets. He has creditors calling him, and he’s unemployed. Laura is worried his creditors will come after her, and if he files bankruptcy, how will that affect her?

ANSWER: The bottom line is your plan is not working—your plan to try to have a separate life from someone you’re married to. It doesn’t work. It’s not working for you.

The answer to your question is if he files bankruptcy, it will only affect you to the extent that if he was very ill, it would affect you. It doesn’t technically jump over on to your credit. There’s a possibility he has some marital rights to the personal residence, and even though it’s in your name, it might be able to be attached. That’s different from state to state, and I don’t know the law in Nebraska. It’s not community property. It’s different than that. This just has to do with personal residence and what’s called a remainder interest in marital rights. That can be messy in a bankruptcy but usually isn’t. Usually, they’re pretty cut and dried about it, and they don’t bother with it because it doesn’t have much value—his marital interest doesn’t—even though you might have some equity there. Who wants to be in his shoes marital interest-wise? Nobody.

Most likely, you’ll be fine. An extreme example of that—and I’m not suggesting this—is this: Were you to get divorced, he’d have his and you’d have yours. The credit bureau and the law treat you as separate individuals. You’re safe by and large except for the fact, from a practical standpoint, you are attached at the hip with somebody who’s got financial cancer. When somebody in your house has cancer, you’re not dying with cancer, but you’re attached at the hip with somebody who is and it affects everything in your life because it affects them. That’s where the practical application of your plan to keep things separate and stand at a safe distance and watch his stupidity unfold is not working out.

I think you guys need to sit down with a marriage counselor and reset your lives so that you can go back to the original vows for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. “I’m going to stand with you,” not, “I’m going to stand to the side of you and watch you crash.” In other words, if you were misbehaving in an area of your life, I would want him to love you enough to intersect your life. I’m talking about you guys combining your lives and him being responsible enough that you can be comfortable with your lives being combined, and you lightening up enough and not having everything perfect so that you can agree to your lives to be combined. I’ll give you my percentages. It sounds like he needs to man up about 80% and you need to lighten up about 20%. Honestly, I think you could cause him to be more successful if you had more faith in him. That’s the kind of stuff I want your marriage counselor to work on.

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