Written by South Carolina Bankruptcy Lawyer, Russell A. DeMott
Filing bankruptcy is a family decision. Even with hectic schedules, it’s necessary for both the husband and wife meet with me together to discuss bankruptcy options.
But Our Schedules are Hectic!
This is the main reason I get for one spouse wanting to come in without the other. The wife says the husband can’t come in because of work, so the wife gets to “go see the bankruptcy lawyer.” And I always feel bad for the spouse who must deal with the financial mess and meet with me. It’s not that I’m a bad host; it’s just that it’s not fair to put this burden on just one spouse. And as a practical matter, it works poorly.
Bankruptcy law is complicated. It’s common to discuss Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Chapter 13 bankruptcy, creditor negotiation (not filing bankruptcy), and even Chapter 11 bankruptcy. We might also throw in the option of doing nothing–what if you don’t file bankruptcy, can’t pay, and do nothing?
During the course of a meeting with a client, we’ll discuss a wide array of options. And for the spouse to go home and later explain all this to the other spouse is impossible. I always imagine the conversation that happens after the other spouse says, “What did the bankruptcy lawyer say?” He said a whole lot, that’s what he said. And the spouse who meets with me just isn’t qualified to translate what I’ve said.
He Knows Some. She Knows Some.
And then there’s the reality of every marriage: no one spouse knows the whole financial picture. Most of the time one of the spouses knows most of what’s going on financially, but not all.
It’s always fun to ask questions to spouses and listen to them reply. I’ll ask about the utility bills, and the husband will say, “we spend about $250 a month on electric and gas.” The wife will reply, “no, it’s more like $198 because we’re on the budget plan.”
What I’ve discovered after fifteen year’s experience as a bankruptcy lawyer is that together married couples have the answer, but separately they don’t. Remember “The Newlywed Game?” That’s what made it so funny. But for trying to deal with bankruptcy issues, well, not so much. It’s just frustrating.
I remember one wife who met with me about a year ago. She didn’t know year and make of the cars, didn’t know what the payments were, wasn’t sure on mortgage balances or home values–even with approximate numbers, and couldn’t fill out the two-page initial consult form we ask clients to complete. We met for a few minutes and accomplished nothing because I couldn’t advise her without knowing the basic facts of her case. The meeting was just a waste of time–hers and mine. And why her husband sent her to meet with me when she clearly wasn’t the one in charge of the family finances completely escapes me.
Remember the Big Picture–Your Financial Problems Are Important to Me. And They’re Even More Important to You!
Folks come to me with big financial messes. $50,000 in credit card debt, $100,000 in credit card debt, business debt of over a million, upside down houses, foreclosure looming, real estate meltdown, you name it. Needless to say, it’s important that we get this right. You want your financial problems solved, and I want to help you with that. It’s important, and it’s worth making time for both of you to meet with me.
Yes, There Are Exceptions
There are times this just doesn’t work. For example, if your husband is in the Navy on an aircraft carrier 5,000 miles away, he obviously can’t attend the meeting. Or, if your husband is a truck driver who’s rarely home. For those unique situations, we make exceptions and get creative, which I’m happy to do. But most of the time the fact of the matter is this: I really need to see both of you, even if you think only one of you will file bankruptcy. Filing bankruptcy is a family decision which affects both of you. Let’s at least meet together for your initial consultation so we can figure things out.
The bottom line is this: unless it’s truly impossible, I need to meet with both you and your spouse to competently represent you.