No, you can file individually. You certainly have the opportunity to file jointly if you are married. But it is not necessary (although, there may very well be circumstances in which a joint filing makes more sense, depending on the debts involved).
Filing individually is fine, but you will still need to supply some information to the court regarding your spouse. For instance, the court requires that all sources of household income must be disclosed for the six month prior to filing. This is normally taken care of by providing your attorney with any and all paystubs that may have been received. But because the court is interested in all of the household income, your attorney will be asking for your spouse’s paystubs over the last six months as well (again, even if that person is not filing with you). Why? Let me give you an example of why it is so important:
According to the government, the average (or median) income for a household of two is $51,120. Let’s assume that you have are in fact a household of two (you and your spouse), and your household income is below this level (in other words, the combined income from all sources between you and your spouse is less than $51,120), then you qualify for a St. Louis Chapter 7 bankruptcy (assuming you have not filed a Missouri Chapter within the last eight years). This type of filing is commonly described as a ‘straight discharge,’ wherein unsecured creditors (like credit cards, medical bills, payday loans, etc.) are knocked out forever (putting you on the road to financial rebuilding in a relatively short period of time). But the only way to prove to the government that you do indeed qualify for such a filing is by providing income verification.
Sometimes, however, it may very well be the case that filing jointly with your spouse makes more sense. For instance, if you and your spouse have joint debt together (like a credit cards) then filing for bankruptcy only solves half the problem. Why? Because if you file an individual bankruptcy, the debt would be discharged as to you (i.e. the creditors could not demand payment from you, and you would no longer be under any obligation to repay it), but the creditors could still come after your non-filing spouse for the very same debt. In such a scenario, the debt would still remain in the household (because your husband or wife would continue to receive calls about it).
There are many different situations which can affect the decision you make about filing for bankruptcy. And this is why it is so terribly important to hire a law firm that has the necessary skill, knowledge, and understanding of not only how the law works, but also the experience to recognize those various situations beforehand (because making a decision is much easier when you have all the pertinent facts). The St. Louis bankruptcy attorneys at The Law Office of Jennifer Alter-Rieken have been helping people for years.