Recently, a new client filed an emergency bankruptcy petition to stop a trial that was scheduled to take place later that week.  (An emergency petition is a case where the debtor does not file all the asset, debt, income and expense schedules but must later file those missing schedules within 14 days.  When foreclosures and garnishments are pending, sometimes there just is not enough time to file the complete schedules, so an emergency petition is prepared.)  The client was separated from his wife and it appeared that they would both benefit if a joint bankruptcy case was filed.  Unfortunately, he was unable to reach his wife before the trial date, so he filed the bankruptcy case himself.

Can a spouse be added to a bankruptcy case after it is filed?  

Although it is possible to amend a petition to add a spouse, bankruptcy courts will deny such a request unless the petition is amended immediately after the case is filed.  The courts generally decline to allow a spouse to join in a case after a cas is filed since this is often perceived to compromise the rights of creditors.  Other courts have ruled that there is no authority in the Bankruptcy Code to add spouses to the case even in cases where an amended petition is filed immediately.  (See In re Buerman, Case number 03-74382, Western District of Arkansas).

A spouse may file his or her own case and then apply to consolidate two separate bankruptcy cases, but this is rarely done since consolidating cases is not usually advantageous and there are extra court and legal fees to consolidate cases.  Consolidating cases only makes sense if two debtors are in Chapter 13 payment plans involving many joint debts that are better administered in a single case.

The benefits of filing a joint case is that it saves debtors additional filing fees and legal fees since the cost of a joint case is typically no more than filing a single case.