When a married couple files one set of bankruptcy documents in bankruptcy court, this is referred to as a joint bankruptcy petition. All debts, expenses, income and property holdings owned by the couple, individually and collectively, must be disclosed when filing a joint bankruptcy petition. By filing bankruptcy jointly, a couple can erase their dischargeable debts without filing separate bankruptcy petitions. However, the kinds of debt a couple has and whether these debts are individually or jointly owed can determine whether it is an advantage or disadvantage to file for joint bankruptcy.
Joint Bankruptcy and Joint Property
All personal property (cars, real estate, jewelry, antiques, etc.) owned by a married couple must be disclosed in a joint bankruptcy filing. This includes property that is individually owned by either spouse. However, if the total value of the assets exceeds available state and federal bankruptcy exemptions, this could present a problem for married couples trying to eliminate some or all of their debts. Consulting with an Arkansas bankruptcy lawyer before filing a joint bankruptcy petition is strongly recommended to avoid denial of your bankruptcy.
Joint Bankruptcy Exemptions
Arkansas, Oklahoma, and several other states allow individuals and couples to take advantage of certain bankruptcy exemptions. By filing a joint bankruptcy petition, married couples can double the amount of exemptions; in other words, each spouse can claim exemptions against the same assets. For example, if a couple each have a $5,000 homestead (or residential real estate property) exemption available individually, they may be able to claim $10,000 on their home or residence. However, double exemptions are typically only permitted on property that is jointly owned.
Using federal bankruptcy exemptions allows married couples to protect large amounts of property, as long as the couple owns the property together. By doubling the current federal bankruptcy homestead exemption of $22,975, couples can protect as much as $45,950 in their home equity. Other personal property exemptions available to couples filing a joint bankruptcy petition include $3,675 for vehicles, $12,250 on household goods, and $1,550 in jewelry.
Advantages & Disadvantages to Filing a Joint Bankruptcy Petition
Making the decision to file a joint bankruptcy petition should come after first considering the pros and cons. Joint bankruptcy filings are particularly beneficial for the following reasons:
- It costs less to file joint bankruptcy than filing separate bankruptcies simply because you will be paying for filing one bankruptcy instead of two.
- Filing joint bankruptcy provides spouses with optimized protection for co-owned debt. If one spouse owes a debt, but does not file for bankruptcy, this spouse will continue to be pursued by creditors for payment.
- Compared to separate bankruptcy filings, filing a joint bankruptcy petition significantly reduces the amount of paperwork and litigation needed to complete the process.
While the benefits of joint bankruptcy are clear, there are some disadvantages if the couple’s individual debts are not congruous:
- If one spouse has filed and achieved bankruptcy in the past, you will not be able to file joint bankruptcy.
- Married couples who co-own property valued above exemption amounts will not gain anything by filing a joint bankruptcy petition.
- Chapter 13 bankruptcies are not viable on jointly-filed bankruptcies if one spouse has debts exceeding Chapter 13 limits or if they have a substantial priority debt, such as child support or tax obligations.
The best way to decide if filing a joint bankruptcy petition will benefit you and your spouse is to consult an Arkansas bankruptcy lawyer. Utilizing an attorney’s experience and knowledge will help you better understand your rights and your debts. Call Nolan Caddell Reynolds at 866-242-0452 for more information.