Domestic Support Obligations and Bankruptcy

With so many people facing bankruptcy in the current climate, it may be good news to know (depending on which side you are on, of course) that the bankruptcy does not allow a person owing a domestic support obligation to use bankruptcy as a way to avoid payment of the debt. In fact, virtually any obligation that is domestic in nature cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Here are a few facts:

  • A domestic support obligation is not dischargeable in a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 consumer bankruptcy proceeding.
  • “Domestic Support Obligation” is a debt that is owed to or recoverable by a spouse, ex-spouse, or child of the debtor or their guardian or representative, or a governmental unit (such as the Children’s division or the Court). This includes alimony, maintenance, child support, state assistance, even if the debt is not titled exactly in that manner. Also included is a debt arising out of a separation agreement, divorce decree, or property settlement agreement.
  • Also non-dischargeable in a Chapter 7 is any debt to a spouse, former spouse, or child not described above that is incurred by the debtor in the course of a divorce or separation or in connection with a separation agreement, divorce decree, or other order of a court of record. Any debt that falling under this section may be dischargeable in a Chapter 13 debt adjustment, however.
  • Domestic Support Obligations receive the number 1 priority for repayment in a Chapter 13 plan or when funds are available in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy estate.
  • To summarize, if it is domestic in nature, it is going to have to be paid. This includes not only child support or maintenance, but also property and debt divisions, such as: marital estate equalization payments, payments in settlement, qualified domestic relations orders, contempt payments, divisions of debts, vehicle debts, mortgages, credit cards, lines of credit, personal loans, medical insurance, costs for non-covered medical care, retirement plan divisions, military retirement divisions, attorney fee awards, and the kitchen sink.
  • No special language is necessary in the divorce settlement or decree to make these provisions apply, although it may be a good idea just to drive the point home.