Spouses may choose to file jointly, but are not required to do so. If filing separately, the actions of the court in Chapter 7 & 13 do not benefit the non-filing spouse. For instance, if a husband files Chapter 7 alone and discharges all credit card debts, his wife will nevertheless remain liable for payment, including potential seizure of property owned jointly by both husband and wife. This is why most couples file jointly. Also be aware that divorce decrees commonly divide responsibility between spouses for future payments on the debts of the marriage. But because creditors are not a party to divorce proceedings, creditors may still hold both spouses fully liable for all debts if one spouse fails to honor payments required by the decree.
Unfortunately, Chapter 7 and 13 frequently accompany divorce. Most qualified attorneys who represent couples are well versed in the impact of each type of legal proceeding, and how they relate to one another. Each state is different, and the division of liability with in divorce decrees, as well as the impact of filing Chapter 7 or 13 should be consider together before reaching a decision.
Variations exist between common law and community property states regarding liability for personal debt, tort judgments, and general unsecured claims against an individual. In some states, spouses become jointly liable for the actions of the other for one or more of these claims. To the contrary, in a few states, liability attaches to individual spouses once separated, and the actions after separation cannot bind the other to liability. The problem arises when one spouse files without notice. Then, a discharge of liability is effective only for the debtor who files Chapter 7 or 13, leaving the remain spouse liable for all debts of the marriage.