Joint debts and belongings if your partner is bankrupt

This advice applies to England. See advice for See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland, See advice for Wales

If your partner is declared bankrupt, you need to know what will happen to any joint debts you have with them. You may also find that your home and belongings of value are affected.

This page explains what will happen to any joint debts you have with a partner who's declared bankrupt, as well as the rules on what happens to your belongings of value.

What happens to joint debts if your partner is bankrupt

If your partner is made bankrupt, they'll no longer be liable for any debts that you have jointly with them. However, you will still be liable for the full amounts.

Your creditors could pursue you for payment of the full amount of any joint debts you have with your bankrupt partner. This is because when you take out a joint credit agreement, you both agree to be responsible for the full amount of the debt. This is called 'joint and several liability'.

Check if you’re responsible for paying the debt

If your partner took out joint debts without your knowledge, you may be able to dispute your liability for these. However, you'll need to be able to show that you didn't sign the credit agreement.

If you signed the credit agreement, you can still check if there’s another reason you’re not responsible for the debt.

If you're struggling with the debts

If your partner's bankruptcy has left you struggling to pay joint debts, find out how to start dealing with the debts.

Your belongings

If your partner is declared bankrupt, you'll generally be able to keep your own belongings, called assets. These include things like:

  • your wages or salary from your job

  • your own savings

  • goods that are owned entirely by you

  • any property that you own by yourself.

However, some restrictions may apply:

If you own your home

Even if your partner’s name isn’t on the mortgage, you might lose your home if your partner has a ‘beneficial interest’ in it. For example, they might have a beneficial interest if they’ve helped pay for the mortgage or improvements to your home.

You might still be able to delay or stop your home being sold.

Find out what to do if your partner might have a beneficial interest in your home.

Jointly owned goods

If you own goods jointly with your bankrupt partner, the bankruptcy trustee can ask you to buy your partner's share. This has to be at their true value. If it's not possible for you to do this, the trustee may get a court order to sell the property.

Gifts from your partner

Your partner isn't allowed to give you items of value or sell them to you at less than their value in order to avoid them being taken away as part of the bankruptcy estate.

The bankruptcy trustee will look at any gifts your bankrupt partner has given you or things you have bought from them.

You might have to give the things back or pay the trustee for them. 

Your partner could also be given a bankruptcy restrictions order. This would extend the period of time during which they have to follow certain rules restricting them for anything up to 15 years. It could also lead to them being fined and/or sent to prison.

The trustee usually checks what your partner gave or sold to you over the last 5 years.

They can check things that happened over 5 years ago if they think your partner has 'defrauded creditors’. This means they think your partner has deliberately sold things or given them away so they couldn’t be used to pay their debts.

If the official receiver or trustee says your partner has defrauded creditors, your partner should get legal advice.

Next steps

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Page last reviewed on 22 February 2021