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If Dad files for bankruptcy, can creditors come after Mom?

November 14, 2012: 6:30 AM ET

My father signed a five-year commercial lease in New Jersey for a business that is not running well. There are two years left on the lease, and he owes close to $40,000 on various business credit cards. If my father declares bankruptcy for the business, can the landlord and credit card agencies come after my mother, who holds a steady job and has a regular income? — K.S.

As long as your mother doesn't have any legal ties to the debt, it's unlikely that she'll be liable, says Jeremy Lark, a bankruptcy counselor at Farmington Hills, Mich.-based Green Path Debt Solutions. If she is a co-signer, borrower, or authorized user, however, this can complicate the issue. "In some cases, lenders can seek repayment of debt from that party," says Lark.

Only a bankruptcy attorney, though, can tell whether your mother is liable for any of your father's debts. Lark suggests your father seek legal advice to understand who is liable, what debts would be discharged through bankruptcy, and how much bankruptcy would cost. He can find an attorney through the state bar association. The New Jersey Bar Association lists referral services by county at

— Austin Kilham

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