“Mad about money? Avoid A fight,” advises U.S. News & World Report, going on to describe what I deal with every day in my four bankruptcy law offices around the state of Indiana. U.S. News’ Kerry Harmon explains that money is tied up with our deepest emotional needs for power, security, independence, control, and self-worth. One partner may tend to save and worry, while the other may spend extravagantly. Risk takers are married to risk avoiders, and “money monks” (who think money is evil and dirty) are married to money amassers. Wives often feel patronized and lectured at; husbands feel unaccepted and criticized, Harmon notes, adding that a down economy makes things worse. When money is tight, “people revert even more strongly to type: Hoarders will save more passionately. Spenders will spend more passionately.”

As a bankruptcy attorney in Indiana for so many years, I’m still not sure about the answer to the which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg question when it comes to divorce and bankruptcy. What is true is that divorce is one of the three main factors leading to bankruptcy. I certainly agree with Kerry Harmon that financial problems cause stress in a marriage.

It’s important for me to explain, though, that one of the big myths on the minds of people who are in debt and happen to be married is that bankruptcy leads to divorce. With almost twenty-five years of experience, I can honestly say filing bankruptcy almost always works the opposite way. That’s because filing bankruptcy isn’t the problem – it’s the stress of not being able to pay the bills that’s the problem.

Bankruptcy is designed to stop stress, buy time, and turn a “mess” into a plan. Having a plan almost always lowers stress, and that, in turn, helps a married couple, if they’re willing to work as a team, get back on their feet as they emerge from bankruptcy.

I’ve often said in these blogs that I’m no economist, and for sure, I’m not a professional psychologist or marriage counselor. I practice law only as a board certified consumer bankruptcy specialist, not as a divorce attorney. But I’ve seen it work over and over again. Once the burden of indecision about the financial situation is unloaded, couples often get back to supporting each other and move forward with their lives together.

Bankruptcy is a legal process, but what it’s really about is moving forward in life.