If you file bankruptcy before you get married, your case won't have a direct effect on your fiance after you marry. Once you file your case, it only appears on your credit report, even if you later marry in a community property state. However, the effects of your bankruptcy, which can last for 10 years or even longer, may play a role in your financial life as a couple, particularly when it comes to applying for new credit.
If you have to file for bankruptcy, filing before you get married might actually be a smart financial move. If you are the one bringing debt to the marriage, a bankruptcy discharge can eliminate that debt before you get married, thereby protecting your spouse from that burden. A pre-marriage filing will also keep the bankruptcy off your spouse's credit report. There is no such thing as a joint credit report, so if you filed bankruptcy as an individual, it will remain on your sole credit report even if you later get married.
Illinois attorney David M. Siegel noted on his law firm's website that filing before marriage might also keep you in Chapter 7 bankruptcy rather than pushing you into Chapter 13. Under Chapter 7, you can often get a discharge of your debts in a matter of months without having to give anything to your creditors. Under Chapter 13, however, you'll be in a monthly payment plan lasting as long as five years. Siegel notes that if your spouse has significant income when you file, you'll likely face Chapter 13 even if all of the debt is yours, since your total household income is considered when you file bankruptcy.
Applying for Credit
Bankruptcy stays on your credit report for seven years if you file Chapter 13 bankruptcy and 10 years if you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy. During the time you have a bankruptcy on your credit report, you may find it difficult to get new credit, whether it's a car loan, home mortgage or line of credit. Any new loans you find are likely to carry high interest rates. If you file for a joint loan with your spouse after you get married, your spouse will suffer from the consequences of your bankruptcy in the form of those higher rates, even if your spouse has excellent personal credit. While in some states your spouse could file for a single-name loan, her income might not be high enough to qualify for certain loans, such as a home mortgage. If you live in one of the nine community property states -- Arizona, Louisiana, Idaho, Texas, California, New Mexico, Washington, Wisconsin or Nevada -- your income and credit history will be reviewed even if your spouse applies in her name only.
The most direct way that your spouse might be affected by your bankruptcy after marriage is your lifestyle. If your bankruptcy was triggered by financial mismanagement, such as living beyond your means, then you'll have to change how you live to avoid running up debt again in the future. If you live in a community property state, or if you take on joint debt after you get married, your spouse will be on the hook for any debts you run up, even if he wasn't responsible for incurring them. This can create incredible stress on a marriage.
John Csiszar earned a Certified Financial Planner designation and served for 18 years as an investment counselor before becoming a writing and editing contractor for various private clients. In addition to writing thousands of articles for various online publications, he has published five educational books for young adults.