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  • Writer's pictureJohn Pratley

Can I be made to pay my bankrupt husband/wife's debts?

Debt and marriage breakdown sometimes seem go hand-in-hand. Questions about bankruptcy and insolvency, arise in all sorts of different ways in the context of divorce and each individual situation needs specific advice. But there is no general rule which says that you are responsible for your husband or wife’s debts because you are married to them unless the debt is in joint names.

Until recently the accepted view was that the divorce court could not make a financial order requiring someone to pay money to their husband/wife if the husband/wife is bankrupt. The authority generally cited in support of that position is a Court of Appeal case from 1984, which pointed out that the benefit of the financial order would go to their creditors rather than to the husband/wife themselves.

But, in 2020 His Honour Judge Booth reviewed the law* and determined that there is no reason in principle why a divorce court could not make such an order, depending on the particular circumstances.

In that case the husband had been made bankrupt with debts of about £273,000. The judge directed that the wife, who had assets valued around £3 million, could and should give the husband a lump sum sufficient to discharge his bankruptcy, plus some additional funds to live on, and a house for his use during his lifetime.

So each case will depend on its own facts, and you need to contact us for advice about your individual situation.

*SvH [2020] EWFC B16


Health Warning :This post is intended as a general guide only – bankruptcy is a very complicated subject, and getting it wrong can be very expensive so it is important to obtain expert advice about your own situation, I can certainly accept no responsibility for any loss you might suffer as a result of relying purely on the information on this website.


John Pratley is an expert divorce lawyer, who has more than 25 years’ experience advising clients purely about divorce and related family law issues, such as the financial consequences of separating and divorcing. After establishing the first niche family law practice in Bristol, and going on to senior management roles in a national firm, John set up Apple Tree Family Law in 2018. Apple Tree Family Law solicitors specialise in advice about divorce and financial issues.

We are based in Bristol and Exeter, but we have clients all over the UK and further afield. We offer, simply, clear and accurate advice about divorce and family law issues, and the very best client service, for a clear and reasonable price.


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