I gave her the ring before we were married. I have a lot of credit card debt in my name only and most of the accounts were opened prior to marriage. I need to file bankruptcy. Can her ring be taken to pay the debts?
Oddly, and atypically, this question has generated some incorrect (imho) statements of the law; so let me just throw out my versions:
1. the ring is her separate property once you've married her ... it does not belong to you;
2. While I have no problem with disclosing the existence of the ring, the trustee may demand (inappropriately in my opinion) that the ring be listed; but stating the fact that it is her separate property is not a dodge - it is simply not part of the BK estate;
3. The debts of one spouse do not become community debts when you get married, nor is that term limited to bankruptcy proceedings;
4. Mr Waters makes an excellent point regarding protecting community assets from creditors who may wish to pursue the non-filing spouse from creditors whose debts have not been discharged as to her. I'm just not sure that SAYING something is community property in your BK papers MAKES it community property.
No, unless the ring is of extraordinarily high value. Even if you file BK individually, all of your wife's assets would need to be listed and exempted as well in Schedule B of your petition. However, your are allowed to exempt assets on Schedule C. Under the "703" series of exemptions, you can exempt jewelry with a value up to $1,425.00, but you also have a "wildcard" exemption available of $25,340. Under the "704" series of exemptions, the exemption would be $7,175.00. Keep in mind also, that the "value" that is to be listed is not the purchase price, or the replacement cost, but rather the current fair market value of the used ring.
Knowing how to value assets and how to properly exempt them is one of the things a good bankruptcy attorney would be able to do for you. I would suggest arranging for a consultation with a local bankruptcy attorney to review your entire financial situation, your income and expenses, your and your wife's assets that would need to be scheduled, the amount of available exemptions, etc., to see if you would have any problems filing a Chapter 7 and if Chapter 7 is even the best approach for you as compared to a Chapter 13. Many attorneys will offer a free initial consultation for this purpose.
From what you described, I'd say the ring is your wife's separate property since you gave it to her before you two were married. Therefore the ring would not be a part of your bankruptcy estate. But do consult with your own bankruptcy attorney about this in case there are other details not evident here.
This is really a matter of state property law. If the ring is truly her separate property, then it does not need to be listed in a bankruptcy case not filed by her. Getting married does not automatically turn separate property into community property, it must be "transmuted" for that to occur. Whether getting married transmutes the character of a ring given in promise of marriage into community property, I really don't know.
The other posts are correct, however, that you do need to list all of her debts, even ones she had from prior to the marriage, because they are now all "community debts" which is really a term of art limited to bankruptcy proceedings.
As Mr. Waters pointed out, unless the ring is of really high value, it's probably safest to list it and exempt it, but you really need to consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney--and probably a family law attorney--to make sure you present everything correctly, properly and--to the extent possible--in the light most favorable to you.
Mark Markus has been practicing exclusively bankruptcy law in California since 1991. He is a Certified Specialist in Bankruptcy Law by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization, AV-Rated by martindale.com, and A+ rated by the Better Business Bureau. His webpage is www.bklaw.com
If it is valuable enough, absolutely. When a married person files a solo bankruptcy petition, the FIRST thing the trustee asks is whether your spouse has any assets that you didn't list as owning in your bankruptcy petition. There is no trustee around that won't, if the asset is valuable enough, go after it even if you claim that YOU don't own it because it belongs to your spouse. That's a dodge that lots of people have tried to shield assets from the bankruptcy court. It won't work, and if you don't list the assets on your petition, you can bet the trustee will claim fraud. There may be some exemption money available to shield the ring, so speak with a bankruptcy attorney ASAP.
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