Between a Divorce and a Hard Place

There are some phone calls I really hate getting.

One of my least favorites goes like this:  I need to file for bankruptcy, because I was ordered to pay my ex’s lawyer in our divorce; and I can’t pay $xx,xxx by Monday.

There are three problems with that sentence.  First, the waiting until the week before (or day before) a court hearing to call a lawyer is just a bad idea.  Almost without exception lawyers are going to want a whole week or maybe even two to handle almost any kind of problem for you.

Second, debt included in a divorce decree is bad news, and a Bankruptcy will probably not do what you want it to do.  In fact, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy will do almost nothing with respect to debt you were ordered to pay in a divorce decree.  There are exceptions, so do check before jumping to conclusions.  For instance, you can discharge a debt to Chase Visa, but you cannot discharge an obligation to protect your ex-spouse from Chase Visa.  So, if Chase goes after the ex-spouse, a Chapter 7 discharge won’t do much for you, although the automatic stay will buy you a few months of peace.  This is complicated, and there are almost always exceptions, so make the call, anyway.  There is always a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy which does have more ability to deal with divorce related debt, and it gives you another chance to take control of the fight.

The third problem is, of course, a five-digit attorney fee award.  You and your ex need to control your divorce — not the lawyers.  Pick your fights, and no matter who is paying your ex’s fees (and in this case, the prospective client was going to be), nobody wants to pay five digits to a divorce lawyer just because the fight is so much fun.  Find another way.  I’ve sometimes wondered if a weekly session of laser tag wouldn’t do wonders for divorce clients.  Beat the snot out of each other for an hour for $60 and you don’t have to talk to each other.  I think it is a great idea.  The divorce bar remains unconvinced.

Ok, rant off.

Sometimes, the best solution for someone with divorce debt is to file a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, assume that most, if not all, of the divorce debt is going to have to be paid, take a full five years to get it paid and at least stop the interest, the threats, the court dates, the fee escalation and the fear.  For some callers the result is better.  For others, it isn’t.  For some callers what I can offer is enough.  For some callers there is a better solution, but more often than not, my answer won’t be what the caller wants to hear.  So, I really hate those calls.


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