Photo: Marc Royce
Q: I am a 46-year-old woman who has been divorced for three years. Due to my ex-husband's poor health and inability to work, a judge decreed that I take on all the debt from our marriage. We had a prenuptial agreement, and I still have my house and 401(k)—as well as a lot of unsecured debt that I'm trying to get paid off. Meanwhile, I met a great man shortly after my divorce. We had already started making wedding plans when he disclosed that he was filing for bankruptcy. This stunned me. How does bankruptcy affect a soon-to-be spouse? Should I delay the wedding, or would a prenup offer me enough protection?
A: Jumping into a serious relationship right after a divorce typically isn't the best move. It's so important to take the time to heal as an individual before devoting yourself to being part of another couple. You and your finances will be better off if you regroup awhile longer.
And my dear, your fiancé's news should stun you enough to give you serious pause. The fact that he's filing for bankruptcy isn't a deal breaker; a lot of good people find themselves in bad financial situations. What's got my "uh-oh" radar pinging off the charts is that he didn't tell you sooner. Why would you consider marrying someone who couldn't find a way to be honest with you? Did he fall into a tough situation, or did he create a mess that could've been avoided? If it's the latter, you need to seriously question whether he's a man you can trust. Find out what you can from him, and be honest with yourself—no rose-colored glasses allowed.
If you do choose to remarry, you won't be responsible for his prior debts. I'd be cautious, though, and delay the wedding at least until his bankruptcy is completed. Not only should you have a prenup in place at least six months in advance of tying the knot, but I also want you to make sure the assets you had before the marriage remain in your name only. What's more, bankruptcy will make it very hard (or very expensive) for you to purchase anything major together for up to 10 years. For example, if you apply for a mortgage, both your credit scores will be factored into the equation that determines the interest rate you will be offered, so his record is going to work against you. But right now, your bigger concern should be that you may be working against your own best interests.
From the December 2008 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine