California Bankruptcy Judges Rule in Favor of Allowing Joint Filing for a Same-Sex Couple

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A judge in the Central District of California has found that a same sex couple, who is married, can file a joint bankruptcy petition. Southern California Law Advocates, a bankruptcy law firm based in Southern California will be helping same sex couples utilize the new decision to file a joint bankruptcy case.

Southern California Bankruptcy Lawyers

Can you file a joint bankruptcy petition if you are in a same sex marriage? The ruling in a recent case in California has moved one step closer to making this a reality. Nineteen federal judges in the Central District of California joined in a decision by Judge Donovan, that found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. The decision will be utilized by Southern California Law Advocates, to help same sex marriages obtain bankruptcy relief through a joint bankruptcy filing.

The Defense of Marriage Act has been treated as barring the right of couples in a same sex marriage to file a joint bankruptcy case.The bankruptcy code section 302(a) allows the filing of a joint bankruptcy petition by "an individual that may be a debtor under such chapter and such individual's spouse". The definition of spouse for federal law has been defined in the DOMA as "only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife." As a result same sex couples have generally been prohibited from filing a joint bankruptcy petition.

The decision in Balas (Bankr C.D. Cal .2011: 2:11-bk-17831) found the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional on the basis that it violates their equal protection rights under the 5th amendment. The case involved a same sex male couple who had been legally married in California during the short period in which marriage was legalized. The couple filed a joint Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition and the trustee moved to dismiss the case on the basis that they were ineligible to file a joint petition. The trustee moved to dismiss the case arguing that a joint bankruptcy petition could not be filed because they were two males.

Judge Thomas Donovan denied the motion to dismiss, stating "no legally married couple should be entitled to fewer bankruptcy rights than any other legally married couple". Although the decision does not establish binding precedent, the signature of 19 other judges sends a strong message as to how the majority of judges in the Central District of California would rule on the issue. The decision also points to strong and continuing growth toward recognizing the rights of same sex couples.

As a result, Southern California Law Advocates will be using the new ruling to help same sex couples, who are married, to file a joint bankruptcy case. Over the past decade there has been a significant change in how people view same sex marriage and what rights same sex couples should be entitled to. The social shift in attitudes toward same sex marriage is finally beginning to not only be reflected in mainstream media, but in the consciousness of the community. SCLA is joining in this effort by helping clients in same sex marriages reduce the obstacles and costs of filing for bankruptcy.

For a free bankruptcy consultation on filing a joint bankruptcy for same sex marriages please call 951-241-8070 or visit us at

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Norma Duenas
Southern California Law Advocates
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